Ananda, one of the Buddha’s disciples, said to the Buddha one day. “I’ve realized that half of the path to the holy life is made of good friendships.”
“No, Ananda,” the Buddha said. “Friends are not half of the holy life. They are all of the holy life.”
I made the wrong choice this morning. Not going on a short hike with my husband. He tried to nudge me.
Everyone knows the importance of exercise and getting outdoors. Researchers are saying there’s something even more important than exercise for our health and happiness.
But take a guess. If we had to make one life choice to set ourselves on the path to a future good life, what would it be?
In a 2007 survey of millennials, seventy-six percent said becoming rich was their number one goal. Fifty percent said a major goal was to become famous.
We are constantly being told in advertisements what will make us happy. A new car, travel to Tahiti, laying on the beach.
Turns out, we are not so good at predicting what will actually make us happy and healthy and able to look back on our lives with satisfaction. But the ancients knew, and science has confirmed it with a huge number of studies.
Relationships, relationships, relationships. All kinds.
The Good Life, a book on well-being, was just released this month. It’s written by Dr. Robert Waldinger, psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School who directs the Harvard Study of Adult Development, along with Dr. Marc Shultz, the associate director of the Harvard study.
The Harvard study is unique in that it started in 1938 and has been running ever since! The researchers have found out a lot of information through interviews, questionnaires, medical histories, blood samples, even extensive MRI’s on body organs. The participants now include the original participants children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
Even so, Dr. Waldinger claims that no one study should be taken as the final word. However, he points to all the other hundreds of studies which have come out in the last few years.
Warm relationships win. It’s not the path we pursue, but the people who accompany us on the journey that makes the difference.
Warm relationships help us buffer the inevitable setbacks in life. When Waldinger was interviewed a few days ago, he was asked what he had learned which was helpful for his own life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IStsehNAOL8
One of the things Waldinger mentioned was his clear realization that everyone experiences adversity. We can never realistically expect always to be happy. Others' lives may look good on the outside, but all of us have significant challenges to navigate and endure. Good relationships are like a protective armor.
Having people in our lives with whom we can be ourselves, tell our troubles, share our joys – our intimate secrets, be vulnerable and authentic. Feel seen and heard. That’s how we humans best thrive. We do better even having quite brief connections with a barista or sharing smiles as we pass on the sidewalk.
Here’s the situation. We don’t seem to get it. We keep making bad choices like I did this morning. But we can learn. It’s never too late according to Waldinger (and it doesn’t matter if we had troubled childhoods or have difficult personalities).
Waldinger also points out that we are different in terms of how many relationships we need. Introverts may be happy and healthy and satisfied with one good friend.
Still, we need to prioritize those relationships. Make the right choice.
Waldinger and Schulz end their book by reminding us of what we already know. We are living in a time of global crisis. Connecting with our fellow human beings takes on a new urgency. We now know after experiencing disruptions to eating out, going to school, and attending club functions, that we need to be together.
The crises will continue, and they will impact our collective well-being. Our family, friends, our communities will be our “bulwark.”
Recently, I attended a meeting. The group is brainstorming an initiative for North Central Washington – Kindness Counts. People from various nonprofits attended.
One woman shared the name of her nonprofit – “Only7Seconds.” That’s the time it takes most of us to write a simple text to someone. The text can simply say, “Thinking of you today.”
These are not just "nice" ways to be. They are essential for us not only psychologically, but physically. Waldinger recounts that he and other researchers had a hard time realizing the impact of relationships on our bodies. But our best doctors are getting it.
After waiting for nearly a year, a family member was able to get an appointment with a renowned medical doctor on the other side of the country. One of the first things she shared with me afterwards was a link the doctor had provided. It's about a likely secret to a long life. Yep. Relationships.
We need these initiatives, these cues, this research to build our social fitness. It helps us make good choices and put a pin in our understanding that without a doubt “we are sustained in a web of relationships”...connections which sooth the inflammation in our bodies, sharpen our wits, light up our insides, and make our lives meaningful.
How might we journey together to the Good Life by prioritizing our relationships?
Good videos at https://www.lifespanresearch.org/
(Please do share with me your stories, struggles, insights about prioritizing relationships, love, June)