The old saying goes “happy wife, happy life.” But, as we now know, the truth of the matter is much more complex. As study after study has shown, strong relationships of both romantic and platonic natures can influence your health just as much as ample sleep, a good diet, and not smoking.
The gains to be made from the maintenance of good relationships can be both physical and mental. As the University of Texas reports, “individuals who have a supportive relationship partner report higher self-esteem, greater self-efficacy, and lower levels of psychological distress and depression.” Having other people around to see and recognize your worth and provide much-needed positive reinforcement is vital to long-lasting mental health. It can even delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
These good effects extend into the body as well, as the state of one’s body can actually reflect the state of the relationships surrounding them. According to the University of Texas, “the quality of one’s romantic relationship is a powerful predictor of cardiovascular health, immune functioning, and even mortality risk.” It seems as if “happy relationships, long and healthy life” may be a more accurate saying (if a less catchy one).
How It Works
The human body and mind are immensely complex things. Depending on the individual stimulus, they derive benefits from other people in a number of different and unexpected ways. For example, the healthy habits of the others around you can subconsciously influence your own. A support network can even create a buffer between you and the stressful situations that have just as many adverse effects on your health.
Beyond preventing stress, good relationships can help you manage the stress that invariably affects us all. It can have an effect on coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system, but love and friendship helps mitigate all of that. What’s more is that, as scientists have suggested, “caring behaviors trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones.” That means when you care for someone as much as they care for you, you both enjoy a reduction in stress levels. You get what you give!
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, is the simple power of happiness. Good relationships make you happy, and happy people live longer and healthier lives. Health and happiness are more than distinct entities in the human being; they intertwine and interact, each affecting the other. Happy people are healthier, healthy people are happier. And nothing makes us more happy than positive, uplifting relationships with the most important people in our lives.
Quality Over Quantity
Maintaining relationships is more than a numbers game. As Harvard Medical School points out, “Living in conflict, such as in a high-conflict marriage, is bad for your health. Living in the midst of warm relationships is perhaps protective.” It’s better to have a strong marriage and a few close friends than many acquaintances, because it’s easier in closer relationships to build the emotional bond that your body and mind will feed off of. As the Harvard study found, people “who were most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80” and the “most happily partnered men and women reported in their 80s that on days when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy.”
What You Can Do
So what are the best ways to put these theories into practice and start seeing tangible benefits in your own life? Start at home, because home is where the heart is. Try your best to improve your existing relationships with friends, family, and your spouse. Even the closest relationships in your life will be tested by the fluctuations of life’s ups and downs, and they will need maintenance to stay strong. You can also rekindle a friendship that may have fallen by the wayside.
After that, don’t be afraid to branch out. Volunteering, clubs, or other organizations are always welcoming to like-minded newcomers. Having a common goal and a shared interest is the perfect way to get a new friendship started off.