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Harvard says good long relationships create success and happiness

Peter Switzer
3 November 2017

On the weekends, I always try to think ‘outside the square’ and bring you along for the ride. To do so, I need to read more widely than most of us in our busy lives and my great find this week was how to be more successful and happier than the majority of mankind.
Now this is not the ravings of a relatively inspirational speaker/guru but the scholarly work of a little grey matter institution called Harvard University in the USA!
Harvard has been studying human beings since 1938, when people weren’t all that happy or successful because there was a worldwide disturbance called the Great Depression still haunting many economies and those who tried to live in them.
The current boss of the study called the Harvard Study of Adult Development is Dr. Robert Waldinger, who comes from the field of psychiatry, as you would expect.
"Our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships, with family, with friends, with community," Waldinger said in a TED talk in 2015.
I’ve looked at this study of 724 men, which eventually went politically correct and eventually started to survey the female partners of their subjects, but the lessons from the study should be learnt by all of us, that is if you want happiness and success.
"It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they're physically healthier and they live longer than people who are less well connected," Waldinger said.
On the flipside, he pointed out that: “People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely."
It doesn’t mean that you have to stretch out a bad relationship for the sake of success and happiness but more the case that if you want this double pay-off, which apparently also coincides with better health and less dementia in old age, then it might be a wise addition to your life plan.
And this brings me to my new offering today — how many of you out there reading this actually have a written down life plan? I bet the numbers would be small and presuming I’m right, the next question is why don’t we think a successful life would be enhanced by a plan to make it happen?
I’ve said before one of the world’s best paid and most sought after leadership speakers, John Maxwell, claims his turning point in his life was at age 21, when his mentor asked him: “John what is your plan for self-improvement?”
He had to concede that he didn’t have one, though I reckon if I was asked the same question by a mentor my reply would have been: “Well it’s not written down but it starts with — make sure I get a good mentor like you!”
But how do you create a life plan, some have asked me, so here’s a number of important steps.
An old-sounding website called www.artofmanliness.com offers five sensible steps, which I reckon women could easily manage. Here they are:

  1. Define and prioritise your roles as a person.
  2. Define you purpose for each role.
  3. Define your goals.
  4. Define your current reality.
  5. Establish specific action steps.

It’s so basic you can imagine it was designed for basic blokes but I love the bluntness of it and the good sense of it.
This is not only a good task for you to perform but also for anyone you lead, from family members to employees to players of a team you might coach.
Imagine if a couple meshed their life plans together, they not only could help each other achieve their goals but they could take out ‘insurance’ to ensure that they would never have to look each other 20 or 30 years on and say “you never helped me become what I always wanted to be!”
I was talking to a business audience for the Brisbane Port Authority during the week and I asked these high achieving business leaders if any of them had done a life plan. Out of 200 people, one person only half-heartedly put up his hand! And he looked embarrassed to admit that he’d done such a thing.
After seeing the result from my question, I asked the attendees if they had created a business plan for their commercial operation. I also asked if they got together their critically important people and asked for feedback on the business, the progress of the company and what innovations should they be considering to get the best out of the company?
To a man and woman, all nodded in agreement and why wouldn’t they, as it is standard and rational behavior from anyone running a business for profit to be objective about key performance indicators. It’s also expected that there is a constant commitment to trying to get the best out of the business and the people in the whole show from employees to contractors and all other stakeholders.
So if it’s so rational for something important like a business, then why isn’t even more important for something of greater consequence as your life?
I defy anyone who seriously would argue that someone whose life is in tatters because of divorce, wayward children or serious illness can be as valuable to a business as someone who loves life, their family and everything outside of business.
Sure it’s a big dream to have to be totally happy but as Nabi Saleh, the co-founder of Gloria Jeans in Australia, said to me when I asked him how he created such a successful operation that was so good that it bought out the Yanks that started to franchise, he said “we always set a big dream.” He effectively argued that by setting a big goal that even if you inevitably fail to get to it, in striving for it you’d end up in a much higher place of success than you were when you started.
To even start writing a life plan is a sign of a commitment to changing your life for the better and even if you don’t get exactly to where you want to, I bet you’ll end up in a better place and everyone around you will better for the experience.
The great US life/business speaker, Jim Rohn, came up with many pearls but the one I’ve always loved is: “Don't wish it was easier wish you were better. Don't wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don't wish for less challenges, wish for more wisdom.”
Creating a life plan that outlines what you want, and what you have to do to make it happen, will see you collect the skills to make you better. And the very action of engaging with self-improvement will deliver one of man’s greatest gifts, which too few of us have, and it’s a thing called wisdom.
Before this weekend is over, start writing your life plan and start with your goals and then follow up with how you are going to make them happen.
I reckon a good life plan will make for better relationships, greater happiness and if Harvard is right, it will bring success!

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