Pain and Pearls

Have you ever found yourself in an awkward position? I have. My latest awkward move was falling off a curb on my first day of a Hawaiian vacation with extended family who live on Oahu. Wearing flipflops, like every other islander, I slid sideways off the edge of a curb and twisted my right foot as I tried to regain my balance. An observer commented, “You sure fell gracefully.” I could have spit venom at that moment, not so much at him, but at myself for harming my wellbeing.

In addition to painfully wayward physical moves, people make wayward social moves. We often lack “social fitness,” a concept well researched by Robert Waldinger, 4th director, and Marc Schultz, an associate director, of the 85-year Harvard Study of Adult Development (The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness). Lives of 724 men (and today including wives and 2000+ children of the men) were tracked regarding their work, home life, and health. Of the original group, men were sophomores at Harvard during World War II; John F. Kennedy was a participant. A second group included teenage boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods where their tenement homes did not have hot/cold running water.

Both groups of men showed positive as well as painfully wayward moves over a lifetime; some experienced alcoholism, some climbed the social ladder from bottom-up, while others at the top slid downward. The over-decades results suggest that wealth, fame, and hard work are not main ingredients in generating happiness and wellbeing.

It is troublesome that 80% of Millennials (currently ages 23-41) in a recent survey report that their major goal in life is to become rich; another 50% include fame as their secondary goal.

However, the single most important aspect for longevity and happiness is hiding in our relationships. Wealth and high achievement are no guarantee to make (wo)men healthy and lifestyle-wise. It is exercising social fitness — nurturing close connections — with family and friends that leads to happiness and bodymind health. Good relationships are a brain and mood booster, as well as a potent factor in living a long life. Loneliness is a sad and silent killer.

The number of social connections a person has is not the important ingredient – it is the pearl of high-quality relating that makes a difference. Your social fitness applies to all kinds of relationships, including relatives, romantic partnerships, friendships, coworker connections, memberships in groups, sports bonding, book clubs and committees. There is no timeline for strengthening current relationships or starting new ones. Begin today!

There are 8 billion of us that share our planet. Our collective social fitness seems a bit wayward at this moment. What social fitness skills might we master in 2023?

Let’s steady ourselves, improve our relationships, and get this planet we call home in an upright position.

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz

149. What defines a high-quality relationship in your life?

150. How might you stretch your relating to include more high-quality relating?    

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

5 comments

  1. Thanks for this reminder to focus on and foster our relationships with others. So easy to get off track, focus on achieving goals, etc. I’ve also read (Book of Joy) that focusing on helping others also plays a big part in how happy we are.

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  2. Thanks, Jan. The study you mentioned, of which JFK was a participant, was featured on CBS Sunday Morning yesterday. I sure do count my blessings for my close relationships. Indeed, they are life! Ellen

    On Monday, January 9, 2023, Pearls of Peace: A Family Psychologist’s

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