Longevity and Legacy: Maintaining Relationships in the Age of Social Distancing

As cities and states ask us to “shelter-in-place,” we may have some family members staying farther away from each other, while others are coming closer together than usual. So it’s more important than ever to tend to our deepest relationships—whether with loved ones who can’t currently be by our sides because of age, health, or geography; or children and young adults who have returned to the nest to study from home.

When Happiness Feels Elusive

According to the Harvard Study of Adult Development—the longest study of adult life, at eight decades and still running—the quality of our relationships directly impacts our overall sense of leading prosperous, fulfilling lives.

The Lifespan Research Foundation, which was built upon this study, asked research subjects as they neared the end of their lives to share what made them the happiest during their lifespan. You might think they would say that getting the coveted leadership role or achieving financial success would be at the top. But what they said were things like building a family, raising healthy children, having a strong relationship with their partner, or teaching grandkids to sail. That’s what stood out most in their memories.

These findings underscore the importance of relationships within families. But how can we recreate the feeling of intimacy while sheltering in place during a pandemic?

Tending to Relationships in Trying Times

At first glance, today’s high stress environment—with concerns for both health and wealth—has all the ingredients for family strife. That’s because each generation is impacted in a distinct way by today’s challenging circumstances.

Children may not yet appreciate the spread of disease or the volatile nature of the stock market. Meanwhile, young parents may be obsessing over more immediate problems—like distance learning for their kids or keeping their business afloat. And seniors, who appear to bear the highest burden of the COVID-19 disease, must grapple with newfound isolation.

Even if we’re physically separated, we can still stay in touch via video calls and social media (or even old-fashioned technology, like phone calls and letters) to nurture our family bonds.

When reaching out, keep the concept of “life spanning” in mind. Life spanning recognizes the disparate needs that members of your circle may have at different phases of their lives. As the Lifespan Research Foundation points out, “if you are willing to ask questions and work to understand other points of view, you are much more likely to strengthen family ties.”

Three Main Areas Drive the Successful Navigation through Life Stages

Life Stages Graphic


Finding Strength in Shared Stories

Now is also the perfect time for the wisdom and perspective of older generations to be passed down to younger generations. A parent or grandparent can tap into family lore and their own personal anecdotes about surviving past hardships, uncertainties, and even incidents of austerity.

Remember, your family legacy is broader than the wealth you transfer. Your heirs will have a greater emotional stake in the wealth and success you pass down if they clearly grasp the story—including sacrifices—involved in its achievement. And it’s stories of surviving Great Depressions, World Wars, or refugee experiences which are more relevant now than ever, both to reassure and to inspire.

So while the markets still fluctuate, and uncertainty is on the uptick, now is the time to encourage frank, open communication between family members. Take the time to hear each other out, and to help each other overcome the same common obstacles, together—even if it’s only over Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime.

Tara Thompson Popernik
Senior National Director, UHNW Services—Wealth Strategies Group
Heather George
Director—Wealth Strategies

The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.

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