Building relationships is important for retirement

Mature group of friends spending time together outdoors

Image: Oneinchpunch/

Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. That’s what the research says according to Robert Waldinger, the head of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.

He’s actually the fourth head of this study, which has been running for 75 years. It has been tracking the lives of 724 men and then 2000 children of these men. Wives were added later.

Every two years there’s a follow up with those involved, which includes extensive surveys and medical examinations.

In presenting a TED Talk, Waldinger suggests that today there’s an emphasis—particularly among younger people—to think that fame, wealth and high achievement are the keys to the good life.

Not so, says the Harvard study. It’s about relationships.

Waldinger makes three points:

1. ‘Social connections are really good for us. Loneliness kills’

The study has consistently found that those socially connected to their family and community are happier. They’re healthier and they live longer than those not aren’t connected.

In contrast, isolated people are less happy, are more likely to have health issues sooner, are susceptible to declining brain function and live shorter lives.

2. ‘It’s not just the number of friends you have and it’s not whether you’re in a committed relationship, it’s the quality of those relationships that matters.’

The research shows that those living in conflict tend to develop bad health. Those in warm relationships are healthier. When individuals are in their 50s, it isn’t so much about health, but how satisfied they are in their relationships.

‘Those most satisfied in their relationships in their 50s,’ says Waldinger, ‘were most healthy in their 80s.’

Interestingly, for those in strong relationships, pain doesn’t take away happiness. But pain is magnified for those in poor relationships.

3. ‘Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies they protect our brain.’

Being in a secure relationship gives a sense of protection, particularly for an older person. That’s when they feel they can count on other people in times of need. And, importantly, in a good relationship individuals’ memories usually stay sharper longer.

It’s important to note that a good relationship is not necessarily smooth all the time.

And, on retirement, those ‘who were happiest in retirement were the people who had actively worked to replace workmates with new “playmates.”’ One of the issues retirement can bring is the loss of workmates without others taking their place.

Waldinger says that the Harvard Study demonstrates that ‘the good life is built with good relationships.’

It’s worth working on relationships now that will continue in retirement.

Bruce Manners is the author of Retirement Ready? and Refusing to Retire, and founder of





Category: Attitude, Connecting, Retirement

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