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What is the secret to a happy fulfilling life?

When all is said and done, where should you invest most of your time? Society demands that we strive to achieve goals like getting that sales bonus, achieving that MD position, winning best and fairest. While there is undoubtedly value in achievement, success without fulfilment is the ultimate failure. These goals are all about external validation, which rarely leads to deep satisfaction.

So, what are we to do when we get caught between the necessities of maintaining home and hearth and nourishing our passions? In today’s landscape of life blog, we look at a fascinating Harvard study which helps us understand where we should invest our time to live a fulfilled and healthy long life.

Harvard University’s Grant and Glueck study of adult development is one of the longest-running (75 years) longitudinal research studies into the predictors of healthy ageing. The Grant study is composed of 268 Harvard graduates (read: affluent) from the classes of 1939-1944, whilst the Glueck study is made up of 456 men who grew up in less salubrious circumstances in Boston.

The Grant and Glueck study focuses on aspects of development through child and adulthood that predict health and well-being in later life, in particular the role that quality intimate relationships play. It’s an amazing study for several reasons, including its sheer length of time: multiple generations of researchers have carried out the research which began prior to WWII.

The key finding from the study according to Robert Waldinger the Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development is that the good life is built with good relationships. The quality of our relationships helps keep us happier and healthier. It’s not the nights working late at the office, having power and influence or owning umpteen investment properties: the predictor of happiness and fulfilment in your life is love.

Being an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist, this rings clear and true for me. The Grant and Glueck study demonstrates that having relationships you can rely upon helps your nervous system relax, keeps your brain in good condition, and reduces emotional and physical pain. Loneliness is a killer – literally – as those who are isolated are likely to die younger than their connected counterparts. The great news is that these connections don’t need to be romantic ones – it’s the quality of your relationships that count.

So how do you quantify the relative closeness of your relationships? Look to your boundaries around them: how comfortable do you feel being vulnerable with your intimates? It’s this comfort and vulnerability that allows people to see one another as they are, offering a deep acceptance essential to wellbeing.

Being vulnerable isn’t always easy. If your life experiences have meant you are not good at communicating your needs or expressing your feelings, or you have struggled to develop or maintain close relationships the support of a relationship counsellor can be important. Learning how to connect, understanding your attachment style, and developing new strategies in response to vulnerability may open the door to love and relationships that fulfil our deepest natures.

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