Research confirms - friendship brings more happiness than money

Loving relationships, not material gains, are key to contentment, say older people when looking back at high points of their lives, says Margaret Jennings.

MAKING social connections overrides making money as one of the keys to happiness as we age, an increasing amount of research suggests.

Counting your blessings instead of your material gains gives more meaning at the end of the day.

In a survey carried out recently with 70-year-olds who were asked to name their top 10 happiest moments so far in life, those that involved loving relationships — in particular family — dominated the list.

And research based on data taken in the midst of the recession in 2010, when money was short, showed that those aged over 65 in rural Ireland who were socially connected were the happiest across all age-groups.

We live in an age when we are urged to keep daily gratitude journals, appreciate the present moment and focus on the positive, as a helpful means of getting through life.

So when an online insurance firm called Beagle Street recently asked 1,000 men and women aged over 70 in Britain about their life satisfaction, to coincide with a short film called Happiest Moment, they were cleverly tapping into our ageless curiosity about what makes life matter, when you look back.

Nowadays being a healthy 70-something of course means you can expect to do a lot more living.

But in this case, when the participants looked back on their seven decades their happiest recollections were heavily linked with being parents — a limitation, considering that many childless people live long, happily connected lives.

So as you contemplate what moments in your life would make the list, let’s take a look at how the participants rated theirs, from the highest down: 

1, Birth of a first child (12.3%); 

2, Wedding Day (11.5%); 

3, Birth of grandchildren (10%); 

4, Birth of another child (8.5%); 

5, Day of retirement (7.4%); 

6, Moving into a new home (6.7%);

7, Seeing your child’s first step (5.5%); 

8, Hearing your child’s first words (5.4%); 

9, Meeting the person of your dreams; 

10, First kiss with person you love (4.4%).

Despite being a limited snapshot, the research does underscore what countless studies have suggested — that our relationships, in this case family, outplay our material gains, when we look back at life satisfaction.

“People tend to think that money makes you happy, but it’s not the case at all. You could have all the money in the world,” says Dr Edel Walsh, a lecturer and member of the health and economics group at University College Cork.

Her research, based on data analysis collected in 2010, showed what she terms “social capital” had a far more significant impact on the happiness of Irish people aged over 65, than that of economic influences. 

Though the economist analysed across the age spectrum, and not particularly older adults, she found that those aged under 24 and over 65 who lived in rural areas, scored the happiest.

“Social capital would include friends, family and community,” she says.

“What I found was that those who had a high level of trust with others and who also had people they could discuss matters with, were in this category.”

Another positive factor for the older participants was regular attendance at religious events — not necessarily Mass — which probably contributed towards their sense of belonging, another factor which sociologists suggest is a basic human need for life satisfaction.

“Definitely in this case, it was more important that they felt part of a community or social group, rather than being materially well off,” says Walsh, who has a particular academic interest in the economics of health and wellbeing.

Researchers at the Trinity College Hello Brain website say: “Just 10 minutes of social interaction can greatly increase your brain performance.

“And it might surprise you to hear that this kind of simple social interaction with other people can deliver greater benefits than more widely practiced brain workouts like playing chess or solving difficult crossword puzzles.”

They refer to research in Sweden which followed 1,000 people with no known cognitive impairments, over three years.

It appeared that of the 176 who were diagnosed with dementia, those with fewer social ties were at higher risk.

A 2013 study in Finland published in the European Journal of Ageing examined the benefits for older people of mobility because of staying socially active through organisations and activities — all which contribute towards creating happier moments in life as we age.

Though we may suffer economically, the ability to reach out and connect brings a priceless pay-off towards healthy happy ageing.

Healthy balance

Energy Medicine for Women By Donna Eden; David Feinstein, €15.27

This is a guide to the body’s energy system, which responds to menopause and other ageing health challenges. It is for those interested in approaching health from a non-traditional perspective

The author has, for more than three decades, been teaching people how to recognise aches and pains and other physical ailments, as an energy imbalance, and how to reclaim their natural healing capabilities.

In this book specifically for women, she argues that hormonal health can be managed by balancing energies.

And she shows how women can work with their energy to strengthen their immune system and promote vitality and inner peace.

It’s worth reading for approaching the year in a more balanced way!

A problem halved

Flagging in your new-year resolutions now that January is past? The solution could lie with your partner or spouse. 

A study shows that people who had a partner with healthier habits were more likely to stick to their resolutions.

“In our study, we confirmed that married, or cohabiting, couples who have a ‘healthier’ partner are more likely to change than those who had an unhealthier lifestyle,” said study co-author, Jane Wardle, a professor of clinical psychology at University College London.

If your partner was also making health changes at the same time, that had even more impact. 

The study, in JAMA Internal Medicine, examined data from 2002 to 2012 regarding smoking, physical activity and weight fluctuations.


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