“To everything (turn, turn, turn), There is a season, (turn, turn, turn), and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, a time to die….” Some of us in the retirement age today might remember that poignant song from the 60s by the Byrds.
As I have aged I have started to think more about time — how the seasons turn ever more quickly as I move closer to “that time.” I think about the things I have done and not done and the things I would like to yet do.
A group of millennials was recently asked about their life goals, with 80 percent saying they would like to make a lot of money, and 50 percent also saying they would like to be famous. It turns out they are not that different from generations past. We, like those who came before us, have been encouraged toward greater achievement, and that will take us to a good life. But a study begun in 1938 that continues today paints another picture of the reality of what really makes for a fulfilled life.
It is unusual for a study to go on as long as this one has because things like funding dry up, people drop out of the study, researchers die or move on to another focus, and that ends most longterm studies. But this Harvard study tracked 724 men, one group composed of young men from Boston’s poorest neighborhood and the other group, Harvard sophomores. The researchers interviewed the men and their parents and gave the participants a complete health exam. Over the succeeding decades, every two years, they were sent a questionnaire and they were interviewed, following them in their work life, their home life and their health.
The thing they learned was not money or fame or working harder and harder, but good relationships are what keep a person happy and healthier. Period. Robert Waldinger, one of the current researchers, said social connections are good for us. They not only make for good emotional health, but they are good for our bodies and minds. It’s not how many friends a person has, but the quality of the relationships, having at least a spouse or one other person for an individual to count on when life gets hard.
I am reminded of a Psalm that encourages us to “number our days aright, that we might gain a heart of wisdom.” I believe the Harvard study imparts timely wisdom. Money is necessary for providing for daily needs, fame is for a few, hard work is important, but relationships are crucial for a fulfilled and healthy life until our days here are done.
Our community recently lost a couple special people who had rich and full lives because of strong connections with others. They had a time to be born and a time to die. We grieve over the loss, but it is apparent they lived their lives to the fullest, and our memories keep them alive in our hearts.
Waldinger gives suggestions for seeking better connections with people. Replace screen time with people time. Reach out to a family member with whom one may have had a strained relationship. I would add, reach out to the Author of life, Who knows us from inside out, Who is there whenever we call.
Mark Twain once said, “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickering, apologies, heartburnings, calling to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”