May 06, 2020
Love is key to a happy and fulfilling life for men. Relationships are the only thing that matters.
Those are the findings of George Vaillant, a Harvard University psychiatrist who spent three decades directing a longitudinal study that has tracked the health and mental wellbeing of 724 American men for more than 80 years. It's among the most significant research ever conducted on the subject.
Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger followed Vaillant as the study’s director in 2005. He summarized the study's findings quite succinctly: “The key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”
So it's pretty clear. Want to find the strength and discipline to live healthy? Build loving and fulfilling relationships. They represent a form of personal architecture that can drive behavior and strengthen purpose – two important qualities in the context of COVID-19, which has even the manliest of men reconsidering their life priorities.
Wondering exactly what’s so new about a man’s relationships and why a guy needs to devote time to rethinking things like love and fulfillment? Don’t men have enough love and fulfillment?
Actually, the state of men’s health, particularly men over 50, suggests that a strong dose of relationship strengthening is definitely in order. The increased susceptibility to COVID-19 found among men has accentuated this point. Their unwillingness to get routine medical care, maintain a healthy diet, exercise and generally take their health seriously, has led to more chronic disease and shorter lives than women experience.
These underlying behaviors contribute to a man’s vulnerability to COVID-19. The basis for a fresh approach to men’s health was always strong. COVID-19 just made it stronger.
So, if you’re open to the idea that more love and fulfillment can power your motivation to live healthy, let me offer you a tool to assess the current state of your relationships and stimulate your thinking about new or enhanced opportunities.
It’s a back-to-basics look at a man’s traditional roles. It uses my experiences to illustrate your ability to find happiness by taking a fresh look at the relationships that may be right in front of you.
Whether it's your spouse, partner or long-time live-in, our inventory begins with the most personal and, hopefully, important relationship in your portfolio.
If health and happiness are linked, this has got to be the strongest of links, one directly tied to your purpose in life. The healthy men I’ve studied almost always introduce their stories with a reference to their day-to-day partner.
As many of us know, it's not necessarily easy to get this right (I’m on No. 3), but when you do it’s a great experience. Perhaps that’s why married men tend to live longer. That said, the opportunity is there. Again, based on the men I’ve interviewed, the key is a strong amount of shared values.
I’m blessed with two adult sons and a 4-year-old grandson. My relationship with all three is only second to my wife and one of the most fulfilling elements of my life. For me, it was a long road as a single dad, raising my sons under my roof for most of their elementary and high school years.
As I tell my younger colleagues at work, as sons grow into men, the relationship changes, but the bonds grow stronger. Just like when they were kids, the fulfillment I get today is a product of time spent together: dinners, days at the shore and, of course, quality time with my grandson.
Kids, and especially grandkids, offer great prospects for a lifetime of love. Maximize the moment.
Even as we age, many of us are blessed with a parent, both parents or perhaps in-laws. My mother will be 90 in a few weeks. My dad died in 2017. They call us the sandwich generation because of our shared responsibilities for parents and children.
Yes, parents bring a host of complexities, and I have mine, but they can still represent a source of deep love. I’ve written previously about the relationship I had with my dad and the fulfillment he brought me in countless ways.
Time with our parents may be limited at this stage of our lives, but the role of son certainly deserves a place on the list of loving opportunities.
I’m one of five children. My siblings are largely spread from coast to coast, but we have developed stronger bonds and overcome our distance – particularly since the passing of our dad. The experience has been amazingly loving and fulfilling. It's another example of things getting better with age and a must on the list.
Extended employment horizons and encore careers are the new norm. With this comes a two-fold opportunity for fulfillment. The first is in the inherent value of work; the feeling of accomplishment and mental stimulation. Social relationships are the second. While in a different category from our family, co-workers can provide lasting and fulfilling connections to shared experiences. They're definitely an opening for growing your relationship portfolio.
As a lifelong Eagles fan, season-ticket holder (handed down from my dad), and general Philly sports fan, I’ve witnessed how the common bond of fandom can provide a platform for lasting relationships. In this case the “love” may be redefined as a love for the team and the fan experience, but its strength and longevity can rival many others in a man’s life. Fandom is a great way to meet people and build your book of relationships.
These are just six roles of a much longer list that could include volunteer, church member, coach and a host of others. Think of them as the architecture of love and fulfillment, generating the motivation to live healthy, with the added bonus that you’ll position yourself to better fend off COVID-19. Not a bad proposition.
Louis Bezich, senior vice president of strategic alliances at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50."