Building Supportive Relationships

Course Introduction

One critical aspect of resilience is our ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships in our work and personal lives.

How important are quality relationships and connection to wellbeing? As it turns out, VERY important, according to an ongoing 75-year longitudinal study conducted at Harvard University. In fact, Dr. Robert Waldinger, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and the current director at Harvard’s Study of Adult Development, says “the clearest message that we get from this 75 year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

This study tracked the physical and emotional wellbeing of two different groups of men: 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939-2014 and 268 male Harvard graduates from the classes of 1939-1944. For 75-years, researchers analyzed blood samples, delved into self-reported surveys, extensively interviewed these men and conducted brain scans (when they became available), to come up with their results.

What do you think would be the biggest predictor of happiness, health and wellbeing in life? Success? Job or career fulfillment? Affluence? It’s (drum roll, please) …LOVE. The study demonstrates that “having someone to rely on helps your nervous system relax, helps your brain stay healthier for longer, and reduces both emotional and physical pain.” Being lonely and not developing relationships and connections, leads to an earlier decline in physical health and death. Interestingly, it is not the number of friends someone has but the QUALITY of those relationships. In quality relationships, depth exists — vulnerability can be shown. You feel safe. You can relax enough to be your true self and accept another’s true self. 

Dr. Robert Waldinger, the current director of the study, believes three important lessons can be learned from this study.

  1. Quality relationships throughout life result in happiness, health and longevity
  2. Quality relationships with family members, spouses and friends are protective for physical health.
  3. Quality relationships protect our brain health/memory

He recommends that we start investing in our future health today by working to improve the quality of your relationships. How?

  • Start with really paying attention to the people important to you through mindful listening—the gateway to improving communication. With this in place, trust and loyalty will deepen
  • Prioritize people over technology
  • Infuse long standing relationships with new adventures, humor and creativity
  • Work to repair estranged relationships at work or home by practicing honesty laced with kindness

Dr. George Vaillant, a Harvard psychiatrist who directed this study from 1972-2004 has an interesting insight into this work which takes a gentle twist. He believes there are two foundational elements which this study reveals: “One is love. The other is finding a way to cope with life that does not push love away”. This is the essence of resilience: finding love (not necessarily a romantic love, but quality relationships) and approaching life with optimism, curiosity and openness. Resilience includes learning to cope with loss and disappointments in a way that doesn’t push love away.

The science about the importance of connections is clear. How can this information help you? Every day, and sometimes ALL day we interact with people. For your wellbeing, we have developed this course to help you build supportive relationships at work and outside of work. Each lesson will have an activity to help integrate the material into your experience.

For this lesson, take a moment now to consider:

  • What are you doing well in your interactions with coworkers, family and friends?
  • What would you like to do better?
  • For you, what are a couple key ingredients to quality relationships?
  • Are you ready to begin? If there’s any doubt, rate your readiness to change.

And in the meantime, if you would like to learn more about this topic, check out the Resource Library. We look forward to having you join us in Building Supportive Relationships.

Music Attribution: ‘Rainbow (PON VI)’ by Kai Engel available at under a Creative Commons Attributions 4.0.

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