Probably the most important and most overlooked law of health
It seems that people will do all kinds of crazy things to improve their health. Some may have positive value, while others leave us shaking our heads in disbelief. The gamut ranges from jumping in icy cold lakes to drinking their own urine (yuck!). Then of course there are the diets. The cabbage soup diet (my mom used to drag me and my siblings through this one – not popular with athletic boys craving calories – “just have another bowl” was not met with enthusiasm), the clip-your-nose-while-you-eat diet (deadens the smells/taste of food so you don’t eat as much), the ice cream cleanse (I don’t think I’d lose any weight but it sounds tasty) and the baby food diet (eat only those little jars of baby food – I think I would also call this the eat yucky slimy food diet – if it tastes unpleasant enough you won’t over eat).
Honestly, if we could choose one aspect or health practice that may hold more weight than the others as far as health and longevity it would definitely be enjoying happy relationships. In probably the longest ongoing medical study, Harvard University has examined the lives of men and their wives since 1938. Evaluating nearly every aspect of their lives and observing what brings and diminishes health and longevity.
Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School states:
- “The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,”
- “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”
- “Good Relationships keep us happier and healthier.”
- “The biggest predictor of your happiness and fulfillment overall in life is, basically, love.”
- “It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship,” says Waldinger. “It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”
- “One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”
- “The good life is built with good relationships.”
- Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes. That finding proved true across the board among both the Harvard men and the inner-city participants.
- The key to healthy aging is relationships.
Lessons learned regarding relationships and health
- Social Relations are really good for us. All of us.
- Loneliness kills. Loneliness and social isolation (even if only perceived) is a greater health risk than obesity or even smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
- People who are socially connected to family, friends and community are physically healthier, happier and live longer.
- It’s the quality of the close relationships that matter. Good warm relationships are protective to our health and longevity.
- The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at 50 were also the healthiest at 80.
- Good relationships, don’t just protect our bodies, but also protect the brain. Memories stay sharp longer.
- Good relationships don’t have to be smooth, but just such that these people (and those in marriages) felt that they could count on each other when things got tough.
- The happiest retirees replace workmates with playmates.
- Replace screen time with people time – a BYU-Idaho study in 2017 reveals that “as daily social media time increased, so did “perceived loneliness and depressive symptoms,” including feeling alone, blue, lacking motivation, or having a hard time sleeping.
- The good life is built with good relationships
Some Strategies for meaningful relationships
- Find People with similar interests and get involved or start something – sports, movie night, share a book, join a club or a study group
- Learn to navigate negative relationships – express your desire for a better relationship – communicate your feelings. If necessary limit your exposure to unhealthy relationships.
- Create a social bucket list that involves connecting with people – going places and doing things.
- Be mindful – set your mind to connecting with others
- Step up – others are looking for connection as well as you. Make the first move.
- Be neighborly – find or create ways to connect. Invite people over.
- Turn over a new leaf – repent (change your heart) & forgive (let go of the past negatives)
What others are doing:
- Gospel Study group and dinner each week (mostly)
- Lunch together each month with people I’d like to know better from church
- Volunteer – there are many opportunities that will connect you with others
- Make a list of people to call, just to check up on them and chat for a few minutes. Many will appreciate the call. Those that don’t seem to can be scratched from your list.
Strive toward at least three positive social connections (people time) each week
Life really is all about those we love. In our world and culture today, it is so easy to get distracted away from what matters most. The truth is, far too many are lonely and hurting – “living lives of quiet desperation.” I urge each of us to reach out to those who need a friend. A phone call, a text can make someone’s day. Invite a neighbor or a few friends to watch a movie or go for a walk. Our relationships and interactions need to become more spontaneous and casual. That can only happen through repeated interaction. When going to the market, offer to pick something up at the store for a neighbor. Or when you find a great deal (like a case of strawberries) drop a basket by to a neighbor or friend. Don’t expect reciprocation. Just do something nice and make contact. By the third or fourth time, it will feel more casual.
As you begin to spread goodwill and love, relationships will develop. You may be surprised who it is that becomes your better friend. Listen to and follow intuitive prompting. Respond to thoughts and impressions. Begin with the desire to improve relationships and develop friendships, then respond to the opportunities and impressions that will present themselves to you.
Dr Kyle Christensen