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Strong Relationships Equal Health, Happiness

2018-02-13

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[00:00.00]
  • From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle Report.
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  • What will most help you lead a long happy and healthy life?
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  • Is it making lots of money?
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  • Is it a great job that you enjoy?
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  • Perhaps it’s fame.
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  • If you ask a young person, many are likely to give you one of those answers. Or possibly all three.
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  • Some cultures put more importance on work and money than others.
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  • Americans can be obsessed with their jobs and making money.
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  • They might feel the need to make lots of money for education, medical care, homes and cars.
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  • But it’s not just about the money.
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  • For many Americans, self-worth is linked to our professional success or failure.
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  • Many of us spend most of our lives working – sacrificing other activities.
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  • Imagine if we could visit our older selves and ask -- "What would you have done differently to be truly happy?"
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  • But we can’t do that.
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  • We could learn about what makes people happy, and what does not, by studying people over the course of their lives.
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  • For almost 80 years, Harvard Medical School researchers have been doing just that.
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  • The Harvard Study of Adult Development is one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history.
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  • Since 1938, it has followed the lives of a group of men from their teen years to old age.
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  • Later, the researchers began to follow their wives and children, as well.
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  • The study finds that wealth, social position and an important job title do not necessarily lead to health and happiness.
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  • Robert Waldinger is the current director of the study.
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  • He is a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School.
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  • Waldinger shared some of the findings with a Harvard Gazette reporter.
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  • He said, "The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health."
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  • He added, "taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too.
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  • In 2015, he discussed the study in a TED Talk called, “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.”
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  • The video of the talk has been viewed more than 19.5 million times.
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  • In the talk, Waldinger says, “Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies; they protect our brains."
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  • He says close relationships are what keep people happy throughout their lives -- not money or fame.
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  • These close relationships protect people from the difficult times that come with growing older.
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  • They protect against physical and mental decline.
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  • The study suggests that strong relationships have a better chance of making a long, happy life than social class, intelligence or even genetics.
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  • And, it is not just romantic relationships.
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  • Waldinger says the relationships we make and care for throughout the years with friends, family members and co-workers are just as important.
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  • The professor adds that strong, close relationships can experience difficult periods.
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  • They’re not perfect.
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  • But, he says dependability in a relationship is most important.
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  • He says people need friends they can turn to when life gets hard.
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  • In the TED Talk, Waldinger explains how the researchers collect information for the study.
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  • Researchers send a list of questions to the participants.
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  • They interview them in their homes, examine their medical records, take blood for testing and take brain images.
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  • They talk with wives and children of the participants.
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  • The researchers also video tape the participants talking with their wives.
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  • Clark Heath, the first director of the study, led it from 1938 to 1954.
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  • The study at that time included 268 physically and mentally healthy Harvard college students.
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  • At the time, common scientific thought was that physical strength, a high social position and a happy childhood were the strongest predictors of a healthy life.
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  • Researchers at the time also thought genetic-based elements, like intelligence, played a main part in predicting happiness or unhappiness.
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  • So, early on, the research did not include examination of participants’ relationships.
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  • Then in 1966, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School joined the research team.
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  • George E. Vaillant changed the direction of the study.
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  • He added a second group of participants -- more than 400 teenagers from some of Boston's poorest neighborhoods.
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  • He also expanded the study to include wives and children of the participants.
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  • Vaillant placed a greater importance on investigating the relationships of those in the study.
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  • He wrote that when "the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment.
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  • But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”
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  • He followed the successes and failures of the participants in their relationships, family responsibilities and careers.
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  • He followed their recoveries as well.
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  • He led the study for more than forty years and then wrote a book about the findings.
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  • In Triumphs of Experience:
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  • The Men of the Harvard Grant Study,
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  • he writes: “The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward conclusion: Happiness is love."
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  • Current director Robert Waldinger, ended his Ted Talk with this advice from American writer Mark Twain.
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  • So, we will too.
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  • “There isn't time -- so brief is life -- for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account.
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  • There is only time for loving -- & but an instant, so to speak, for that.”
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  • And that's the Health & Lifestyle report.
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  • I’m Anna Matteo.
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