A Harvard study spanning 80 years investigating aspects of health and happiness in 724 men, reveals that the most salient factor impacting happiness in life is the quality of relationships. Researchers uncovered that those who felt the most prosperous did so as a result of close ties with family, friends, and community. In the participants 50’s, it was the fulfillment found in relationships that was the most predictive of life satisfaction and longevity. Romantic, passionate love, neurochemically, can illicit pleasure but also some level of stress response, eventually becoming a buffer for stress. Love is defined as an intense feeling of deep affection, while exchanges of love result in spikes of feel-good hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin. The romantic type of love is not where the health enhancing effects begin and end—researchers emphasize that the connections with family and friends, along with the opportunities to engage in exchanges of kindness, compassion, understanding, and service were many of the lifetime inputs supporting happiness.
Pursuing a healthy, long life includes investing some of our time, attention, and enthusiasm forging meaningful connections—social fitness is a construct involving our ability and consistency in prioritizing healthy relationships that involve multidirectional respect, communication, authenticity, and support. Similar to physical fitness, social fitness is strengthened through practice and maintenance, allowing us to capitalize on the benefits of social connection markedly, when experiencing trauma, mental, or physical health challenges. As our physical body recovers from exertion more efficiently when well-conditioned, social fitness contributes to overall resilience and a more rapid return to our baseline. It is in our connections we are made strong—mind, body and spirit—supporting the simple, but well known phrase, “the greatest of these is love.”