How important are relationships to the quality of our health?
It turns out, VERY important.
In places where people live longer lives in good health (called “The Blue Zones”), social connection has proved as important as diet and exercise in their ability to maintain health.
It’s not just about having lots of friends. It’s about having friends, family and a contribution to make. You have to feel like you’re part of something.
There are dozens of stories of people in the blue zones who’ve lived past the age of 100 in good physical and mental health, and all of them have had contributions to make and value to offer to the people around them. Most of these people live in multi-generational family homes, where 3 or more generations still live in the same house, they engaged in community activities and their age was something to be valued and respected. As “elders”, the wisdom of their life experience was sought after and family and community members would turn to them in times of crisis or simply for everyday advice.
Something I’ve been thinking about over the 29 days that I’ve been writing this blog is how insular my life has become. I work alone and spend large parts of my day alone. My favourite part of my day is my morning routine, usually practiced very early in the morning when other people in my time zone are still asleep. I’m an only child and spent large portions of time on my own – I’m told this was my preference.
It occurs to me that part of my difficulty feeling and expressing joy could be down to the fact that I have waytoo much time to ruminate and get stuck in my head.
It’s true that my family brings purpose and meaning into my life but since I’m the mum, I get to set a lot of the rules and control a lot of what happens in our home. I get stressed when my kids have sleepovers because other kids are SO different from my own and the unpredictability, coupled with the need to make sure they have a good time feels like a lot of pressure.
I realise that part of my difficulty comes from how infrequently my “control” is challenged. It’s back to what I’ve written about a few times over the 29 days – too much comfort saps joy out of life.
Imagine if you had people coming and going from your home all the time – friends, family members or just people popping by to ask you a question, tell you a story or check in to make sure you’re ok. You’d have to be ok with extra mess, less control of your time, more possibility for conflict to arise – and the skills to manage it when it happened. You’d have to learn patience, tolerance, the ability to let things go in order to benefit from exposure to all these people.
If you’d asked me a month ago, whether I’d want to live that sort of life, I’d have said it was my idea of hell.
Now I’m seeing that it’s only my idea of hell because I’ve trapped myself inside a box of life rules and scripts I need to follow – and need those around me to follow – in order to feel ok.
So, in practice, exposure to more people, more quirks, new scripts, and different life rules probably has to be a key part of increasing the space available inside the box I created for myself. I don’t think I’m ready to get rid of it entirely but it’s clear that its confines bring unnecessary stress so having more room to move inside it would make a difference.
Right now, one way I could do that is to volunteer. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time but always said I “don’t have time”.
I do have time, and now is the time to make it happen.