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?