Try this simple exercise. On a piece of paper write down the five most important people in your life. It should be a list of people who you truly care about and enjoy spending time with. The only rule is to not include anyone you currently live with.
Now try to estimate how much time you’ve spent with each person over the last year. It should primarily be time spent in person, but if you care to include meaningful phone conversations that’s up to you.
After you write that number down next to each person’s name, how do you feel?
If you feel good about it, chances are you feel pretty good about life. If not, well let’s just say you have a pretty simple way to improve your life satisfaction.
That anyway seems to be the gist of the book I’m currently reading, The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness. The comprehensiveness of this study is spectacular – beginning over 80 years ago tracking the lives of 250+ Harvard students. It has followed those students and their children and grandchildren since then. It has also expanded significantly, combining with another study that began in the 1970’s following inner-city Boston youth and then adjusting its sample to include more women and minorities as the study and society progressed.
The data collected and the findings they represent are rich and extraordinary. But one theme seems to rise above all. The primary driver of the quality of life is the quality of our relationships.
While time spent with someone is not always a determining factor of a quality relationship, there is no doubt some correlation.
There are understandable reasons why we neglect certain relationships. We may prioritize the needs of our immediate family – those people we live with. Our work may take up a predominant amount of our time. Proximity is another driver. It’s easier to spend time with someone who lives five minutes away than someone who lives five hours. Some people are naturally more introverted than others.
Ultimately though, the numbers are what they are. Look back at your list. See something you don’t like? Do something about it. Start with one person. Pick up the phone. Make a plan.
It will do you some good and in all likelihood them as well.