- Susan Pinker
More than diet and exercise, more than being a non-smoker or a non-drinker, the number one factor in longevity is social connections. In my own work as a health coach, the most common health concern among my clients is loneliness coupled with a lack of meaningful relationships.
Many women find themselves alone later in life whether due to retirement, becoming an empty nester, losing a spouse, or being laid off. Careers and/or child rearing took priority over friendships leading to loneliness when those factors are gone.
I know from my own experience how hard it can be to make friends or find community after changing jobs or moving. The ease of making friends in high school or college is no longer available later in life, and often the effort to create solid, trusting friendships requires a lot more energy than expected.
Susan Pinker, a psychologist, studies longevity, and has a worthwhile TED Talk about what differentiates those people who live long lives from the rest of us. When looking at social connections, there are two types that impact longevity. The first type is who you interact with on a daily basis. This includes not only people you live with, but also your neighbors, the grocery store clerk, the bank teller, and the coffee barista to name a few. This suggests that leaving the house is important for your health. The second type is your very close friends. Shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown calls these people your "bury the body" friends. These friends, of which you can expect to only have a handful at most, are the friends you can call when you are in a tight, challenging situation and they won't judge you or gossip about you for said situation. They will help you. Hold these people close and dear for they are the golden treasures of your life.
Are you lonely? It's not uncommon these days. If you are, I can empathize. I have spent many months of my life feeling isolated and alone. To me, when I was deep in the loneliness, it felt like drowning in a sea of molasses. It felt thick and dark and there was no way out of it.
The truth is there is a way out of loneliness. One key question learned in coaching is to ask, "What are you willing to do about this?" It doesn't really matter if the client has a lot of great ideas for overcoming loneliness or lack of meaningful social connections. It only matters if they are willing to take action on them. That isn't to say there is something wrong with the person who doesn't take action. Taking action is a choice, and they are lovable no matter the choice they make. So if you are lonely, what are you willing to do about it? Some successful solutions my clients have found are scheduling a lunch with a friend they haven't seen in some time; taking a class at a community center, art studio, or yoga studio; joining a book club (check with your local library for clubs in the area); participating in an activity on meetup.com.
If you are lonely, please know I am rooting for you to make meaningful social connections. Your life depends on it.
Additional sources for this blog post can be found here and here. Also, this study was used a source material.