The potency of connection

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Love has a long and positive reach.

Much time and energy has gone into documenting the impact of negative events in people’s lives. The consequences of neglect and abuse has received considerable attention, and rightly so – the impact of adversity is large and lasting.

Less attention has been given to how love might impact on human beings, and the enduring nature of that impact.

You can estimate the impact that love might have on human beings by reflecting on your own experiences. Consider these questions:

  1. Who did you feel cherished by in your life?
  2. What impact did that person make on you?

Chances are that you are likely to report positive experiences that are related to it: Positive mood states and positive physical states. No wonder human beings are prone to nostalgia. If you’ve been fortunate, you may have had a parent cherish you and the positive impact of this might well be life long.

Being cherished by others has lasting and far reaching consequences. In 1938, 268 men were gathered together and studied as a cohort as they aged. The cohort of men, of which John F Kennedy was one of the participants, were a part of the “The Harvard Grant Study”. It is a longitudinal prospective study, meaning it looks a little like a photo album – photos and snapshots taken of the men at regular intervals for the rest of their lives.

The Harvard Grant Study has some illuminating things to say about the impact of love. Based on the participants descriptions of the relationships with their caregivers, each participant was given a score from 5-25. The scores were then separated into quartiles with the top quartile reporting warm relationships in their early years. They were given the label “cherished”. The bottom quartile reported having had “bleak” relationships. They were given the label “loveless”.

By the time the men were in their seventh decade “the fifty-nine men with the warmest childhoods (the ‘Cherished’) made 50% more money than the sixty-three men with the bleakest childhood (the ‘Loveless’)”*.

The ability to earn an income is not the defining outcome of flourishing, but is one outcome among many others that are prompted by being cherished.

A variety of other positive consequences for having been loved were also found: The cherished were eight times less likely to have been depressed, they spent less time abusing drugs, had higher levels of life satisfaction and were four times more likely than the Loveless to enjoy warm social supports at 70.

This brings about an opportunity that I wish we all felt more urgent about. It is true that love received early in life is a set up for life, but it is more accurate to say that love is a set up for the rest of your life – no matter what age you are. With that in mind we have the power within us, not to make a success of ourselves, but to make a success of others. It need not be anything contrived, you don’t need to organise people you love or develop a plan for people you love. It is far more simple, far more beautiful and far more potent. It is to cherish someone close to you, because when you do you will set them up for a positive future.

*Vaillant, G.E. (2012). Triumphs of Experience: The men of the Harvard Grant Study. Belknap: Cambridge. p113.

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