Spring has, we hope, sprung here in the Philadelphia area. Trees are budding, we get to see the sun, the days get longer and the Phillies are loosing.We emerge from the long cold, gray winter. Happy times ahead! Mother and Father’s day, graduations, weddings and end of program year events all serve to stir up memories and, we hope, anticipation of happy times. Happiness, that much sought after goal, is so subjective and so prized. But what makes up happiness?
The Atlantic Monthly has been following a major Harvard University longitudinal study on happiness for years.
It is a study that began at Harvard of a class that entered school in the late 1930’s. Dr George Vaillant has followed this group through their lives. Vaillant identified seven major contributing factors that predicted healthy aging. both physically and psychologically. The seven were “mature adaptations”;which I interpret as having the ability, as we age, to roll with the punch or “go with the flow” or, as I like to call it, flexibility. The others were: “education, stable marriages, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise and healthy weight.” If you have five or six of these seven in your favor by the time you reach fifty, the study showed that you have a very good chance, by eighty, of being called “happy-well”.
Equally as important in this analyses was Vaillant’s finding of the poor of relationships. “It is social aptitude not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging.”
We have written a lot on the power of relationships as we age.
In Seekers of meaning, our book on baby boomers, Judaism and aging, we review the “theology of relationships” and posit the fact that, as we age, relationships with other people are a key to how we grow older. The study supports that. Vaillant was asked in a March 2008 interview what he had learned from following this study. His response was that “the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships with other people”.
Spring is the time for renewal and new beginnings. As we move forward, let’s not forget the relationships that have brought us to where we are. It is with those people and the ones we have yet to meet, that we will find joy and, we hope, meaning and purpose.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min