What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? According to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, the answer is unexpectedly simple. He says that good relationships keep us healthier and happier.
There was a recent survey, asking Millennials what their major life goals were. Over 80% said that their goal was to get rich. 50% of the same young adults said that another major life goal was to become famous. Weldinger says that we are given impression that these are things we need to go after to have good life, but is that right?
As the fourth director of a 75-year-old study on adult development at Harvard, Waldinger shared three important lessons learned from the study. One: Social connections are really good for us and loneliness kills. Two: It’s not the number of friends you have, or whether or not you have committed relationships, but the quality of close relationships matters. Three: Good relationships don’t just protect our physical bodies, but they protect our brains too. People in a securely attached relationship in their 80s are protected and their memories stay sharper and longer.
These findings seem to make sense and appear to validate our observation that happy people are extremely social. However, it does not mean that being social is a ticket to a healthier and happier life. If social connectedness indeed increased how happy we feel and made us physically and mentally healthier, there would be a myriad of courses and books on how to live more socially. Correlation does not mean causality.
Social connection requires some sort of common threads such as culture, community, interest or social status. You have to find a common element to share before you can connect with others, but what if you are different and have a few things in common? People who spent many years overseas have a hard time adjusting to life back home, not because the home country social connection is not open to them, but because the returning person misses sharing exotic adventure stories and fascinating cultural discoveries, which could not be shared with your suburban neighbors and Home Office workmates. Those unique experiences infused your life with so many “Wow” moments and made your family closer, but it made you different.
When I was growing up, I wanted to be attractive and interesting with a few really cool friends. Big corporations represented the evil empire. The pursuit of money was not cool and it should not be admitted in any sense. Chasing the latest fashion trend made you cheap, unless you are ahead of it, and doing things other people liked was boring. Being different was attractive and you were interesting because you were so intently stretching your own world. We were all impressed when someone pushed the boundary beyond the limit of our linear thought process. Being rich and famous was opposite of my teenage idealism, and being attractive and interesting is once again coming back as a life goal as I turn 60 years old.
Being different, more often than not, is not going to make you popular. Taking a path less traveled sometimes is a lonely decision. Those same inside jokes and reciting feel-good memories of the past among my old friends used to bring comfort and reassurance, but now they make me feel awkward. Every once in a while, I feel like busting out of the present social connections and start a new journey to the unknown. You create a meaningful relationship when you are barely social and desperate. Not when you are partying with a million friends. Nonetheless, a strong bonding, once formed, becomes the essential part of your life. You need it to feel alive. Without a close relationship, you feel like you are stuck in the rock formation, frozen in time and space, unable to find any color or smell. I feel like a fossil when Diane is away.
Waldinger then poses an important question. If you are going to invest in your future best-self, where do you put your time and energy? Is checking your Facebook 50 times a day to stay socially connected a good investment for a healthier and happier life? Does getting together with your close friends every month represent a good bet on happy old age? If so, I’m destined to end sadly. To me, it is not how socially connected you are that matters, but how you are making new connections and engaging with your interest that matters. I get so excited when I find someone whom I share a common interest and his passion on the topic motivates me to go deeper.
Come to Ormsby Hill and make new connections with your topical friends…
In pursuit of unsocially happy…