A Good Life: 5 Steps to Investing in Relationships

Barbra Streisand expressed it best when she sang, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

And it turns out they’re not just the luckiest; they’re also the happiest and the healthiest. According to a Harvard study on adult development, the strongest predictor of our happiness and health is the warmth of our relationships.

Since 1938, the Harvard study has set out to determine what makes people thrive by tracking more than 1,300 volunteers across three generations. In their book, The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness, authors Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz share lessons from the Harvard study so that we may benefit.

A good life is not an easy life

It’s made abundantly clear in the book that a good life is also a complicated life. It’s a life that unfolds over time, involving love but also pain. Leaps forward, but also setbacks. It’s not always easy, and it’s rarely perfect, but a good life is forged from precisely the things that make it hard.

Social fitness keeps us healthy

Relationships are not only important to our happiness, but they also affect our physical well-being. Think of a relationship as a natural stress reliever. Can you remember the last time you were stressed and reached out to a friend to talk about it? Do you remember your body feeling less tense afterward? Having someone to talk to can bring our bodies back to our natural baseline.

Social fitness means tending to our relationships much in the same way we take care of our physical health. Just as our muscles can atrophy from lack of exercise, our relationships can wither away from neglect unless we give them needed exercise and care.

Follow these five steps to invest in relationships for your own social fitness:

1. Take stock of and prioritize your relationships.

Assess where you’re at. Which ones energize you, and which ones drain you? Which ones are working? Which ones do you want to enliven and move forward with?

2. Adapt to challenges in your relationships.

Move toward relationships rather than away from them. By navigating difficulties and “facing the music,” we can flourish in the face of them.

3. Be deliberate about your time and attention.

Be present, be curious and be brave in asking questions. This is the greatest gift we can give others. Showing we care can be as simple as a quick text to say, “I’m really busy, but I’m thinking about you.”

4. Invest in strong ties and weak ties.

Not all relationships need to be deep. Even those short and shallow connections with your mail carrier or coffee shop barista have been shown to give us little spikes of well-being.

5. Start now.

Whether you’re in your working years or in retirement, it’s never too late. Some people in the Harvard study made their strongest connections in their 60s and 70s. Others found romance in their 80s!

Now it’s your turn

The authors of The Good Life sign off with a final suggestion to get us started.

Think about someone—just one person—who is important to you. It could be an old friend a long distance away or the person sitting next to you right now. What are they struggling with? What do they mean to you? Where would you be without them? Now think about what you would thank them for if you thought you would never see them again.

Who are you going to reach out to?

Take a moment right now to be brave and let them know.

Enjoy your Good Life!



  • https://the-good-life-book.com/
  • https://news.uchicago.edu/scientific-secret-happy-life-marc-schulz
  • https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1149427841


Darryl Newman, CFP®, MA

Darryl Newman, CFP®, MA

Wealth Advisor

Darryl is a Wealth Advisor in our Itasca, IL, office. He believes that a more informed relationship with money, with its opportunities and challenges, can open doors to a full life. A former teacher, he now educates, encourages and empowers clients by specializing in “Retiring Well.” By actively listening and crafting individualized plans, Darryl provides clarity and confidence to help clients see where they are and where they want to be.


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