A Good life Equals Good Relationships
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. ~ Arundhati Roy
I've just come back from India, and I miss it already. I don't miss the dirt, the pollution, the poverty, the constant crowds of people . . . but I miss the human connection; the warmth of the people; strangers helping me lug my suitcases from the conveyor belt or spending an entire day cooking a six-course meal for me. It happens all the time, and it never fails to charm me.
My friend and I were having a debate about this other day. She's moving to Ohio to go back to work after being a stay-at-home mom for twenty years. "Why?" I asked. "Because it's too lonely and depressing to be home," she said, "now that my children are gone." My mind flashed back to a memory of my Mom and Dad peeling oranges together in the morning to cut up for breakfast; going for a walk a little later in the day; getting dressed after their afternoon nap to take a sojourn to the local temple or dropping in to friend's house for a cup of "cha"; then climbing wearily into their winter quilts to watch a TV show together before switching off the lights. For my parents, all the kids have been gone from home and country for twenty years now, but they are content in their lives; living peacefully and happily and the things most trivial to us make them happy.
"Why is it so different in India?" I asked my friend.
"There's a lot of hustle and bustle there. . .family, friends, neighbors. . .something happening all the time," she replied.
She's right. The chaos, the commotion in India, the warmth and welcome from all manner of people from the lowly chowkidar who guards your house to the salesperson who helps you a pricey boutique; that's what creates and fosters the enduring connections that send a glow to your heart.
And that is important. . .WHY? Because lessons from the longest study (75 years) on happiness reveal that good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period. Study
The study came up with 3 big lessons about relationships:
The first is that social connections are really good for us,and that loneliness kills.It turns out that people who are more socially connectedto family, to friends, to community,are happier, they're physically healthier, and they live longerthan people who are less well connected.And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic.People who are more isolated than they want to be from othersfind that they are less happy,their health declines earlier in midlife,their brain functioning declines soonerand they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.And the sad fact is that at any given time,more than one in five Americans will report that they're lonely.
And we know that you can be lonely in a crowdand you can be lonely in a marriage,so the second big lesson that we learnedis that it's not just the number of friends you have,and it's not whether or not you're in a committed relationship,but it's the quality of your close relationships that matters.It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health.High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection,turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced.And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.
And the third big lesson that we learned about relationships and our healthis that good relationships don't just protect our bodies,they protect our brains.It turns out that being in a securely attached relationshipto another person in your 80s is protective,that the people who are in relationshipswhere they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need,those people's memories stay sharper longer.
Moral of the story: To live a good life, lean in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community.
And no, you don't have to go to India to achieve that.