Here & there: The secret to a long happy life

Photo from Photodisc / Photodisc, Getty Images, composite St. George News

FEATURE — My mom turns 75 on Monday.  She is a force of nature.  She still rocks a lime green leather jacket, wears gold ringers on almost every finger and solo drives the 1,500 mile round-trip from her hometown in California to Utah at least four times a year.

She reads the newspaper daily – often clipping articles she finds interesting and sending them to her daughters – and a plethora of novels, wakes at 5 a.m. to “walk around the block” and puts on funeral luncheons for 150 people.

In short, she runs circles around people half her age even when she rounds up, which she often does. She doesn’t just round up because people will be more impressed with how good she looks – they are impressed – but because she embraces her longevity.  She owns it.  She redefines it.

My mom makes 75 look like 40. Ponce de León would be jealous.

What’s her secret? Deep, meaningful friendships.

“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period,” said Harvard researcher, Robert Waldinger, in his November 2015 TED talk on what makes a good life.

Waldinger is a psychiatrist and more importantly the current director of The Harvard Study of Adult Development. The unprecedentedly long study has tracked 724 men year after year for 75 years, interviewing them in their homes, taking blood samples and doing brain scans.

The study followed the men and now their 2,000 children as well through successes and hardships. At the start of the study, half of them were Harvard sophomores and half of them boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods.

What the study shows is that, in spite of myths about money, fame or even achievement being at its core, a good life is built on relationships.

Harvard could have saved a lot of time and money if they had just tracked my mom for the last 75 years instead of those hundreds of Bostonians.

For as long as I can remember, my mom has invested in friendships: She invested in women in Junior League, church, the neighborhood and the PTA; with my dad, she invested in couples during graduate school at University of California, Berkeley, three of whom they still travel with every spring; and she invested in a relationship with my father.

As good as my parents’ marriage was and is, my mom never subscribed to the notion that my dad could be her every-friend or that she could be that for him. I think that attitude helped strengthen their marriage.

My parents were together out of choice not emotional necessity and that allowed their relationship to breathe and grow leaving room for other friendships in their lives as well.

Friendships that are meaningful, deep and necessary.

The Harvard Study shows that it isn’t just having a big group of friends – or even a spouse – that makes the difference in life.  Having meaningful relationships is the trick. And that’s exactly what keeps my mom young.

She currently lunches with three different groups of ladies, participates in a robust book club, talks to her sisters and daughters often on the phone and exercises with friends. She has friends her own age. She has friends my age. She has friends younger than us both. And she has a happy marriage.

I said before that my mom is a force of nature. I’ve changed my mind. She’s actually a force of friendship. It’s the best birthday present she could have given herself at 75 years young … or not.

Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News, any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.

Email: katdayton@gmail.com | news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • Henry January 23, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    Good article Kat, and congrats to your Mom for creating a fulfilling life for herself and those around her. Akin to what you said, I think the key to a long, happy life is vigorous physical activity, intellectual curiosity, and caring social relationships.

  • Nanci January 25, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Fabulous article, and every word is true! Your mom continues to be one of my most inspiring, vibrant friends! Her authentic zest for life, her unflagging optimism, and her continued determination to always be learning and growing are just a few of the things that I love about her. You captured her perfectly! (Only thing better would be a photo of the “real Bobbi”, rockin’ that green leather jacket!) 😉 Thanks, Kat!! I always enjoy your writing!

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