Each week for 12 weeks, I’ll blog about one habit. And if you feel inclined, you can road test it for yourself. Habit 9 is about Relationships with Others.
With their self-insight and awareness, resilient people are good at relationships and making connections. They have strong relationships with friends, colleagues, and family. They give and accept support. These connections have meaning attached to them. There is a strong sense of belonging. They are empathetic or celebratory when the situation arises. George Vaillant, a Harvard psychiatrist states: “Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at 4am to tell your troubles to? If yes, you will likely live longer than someone who answers no.”
Relationships, connections, tribes … whatever the name, it’s a sense of belonging. The opposite is the absence of belonging, perhaps loneliness. And loneliness is disabling to the point it suggests that a sense of belonging is fundamental to leading a life of happiness, resilience, and overall wellbeing.
I recently discovered a fact grounded with scientific research. Loneliness doubles the risk of dementia. My mother has dementia. While there are many other contributing factors that cause this disease, I do know this. She would often describe her life as lonely. It was both sad and puzzling as I knew she was involved in some local “social” groups. It appeared she was spending time socialising with others. But there’s a difference, isn’t there, between social ties versus social belonging. She may have socialised with them, but did she feel a sense of belonging?
Whether it be our personal or professional lives, reaching out to connect, allowing ourselves to feel vulnerable at that moment, will be an investment in our emotional and physical wellbeing.
In the workplace, where vulnerability is often buried, especially as seniority increases, reaching out to others for support must be encouraged. Often the opposite takes place. A major project or deadline is looming, and stress-levels begin to rise. Long hours in the office ensue, work is taken home for the weekend, lunch is skipped, social invitations are declined, and we begin to neglect everything that is precious to us including our health, family, and friends. It is in these moments that resilient and thriving people will seek the support of their meaningful relationships. They won’t hand over their woes and expect miracles; they’ll simply gather oxygen, laughter, and love from their tribes to reduce their stress and re-energise.
One of the longest-running psychological studies of all time by the Harvard psychiatrist, George Vaillant, was quoted in the book, The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor. The study followed 268 men from college in the late 1930’s until recently. The study identified the life circumstances and personal characteristics that distinguished the happiest men to the least happy (or successful) ones. In 2009, Vaillant told the Atlantic Monthly when asked if he could sum up the findings in one word: “Love - full stop”. He went on to say in further reports “there is 70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world”.
But what may have stopped my mother from turning her social ties into social belonging? What stops people being vulnerable enough to reach out and ask for help, or to be open to others to offer help? Do some hold personal beliefs that tie together vulnerability with weakness? Does social anxiety get in the way of making new, meaningful connections. Does low self-confidence hold some people back? Or are we just caught up in the false belief that the more relationships we have, the better - meaning we are investing in a wider circle of acquaintances, rather than a smaller circle of meaningful relationships?
Meaningful relationships matter. Loneliness doubles the risk of dementia. Love. Full stop.
Habit 9: Road test
Draw three circles, one inside the other. The smallest circle, the one in the middle is your 4am phone call. The next circle will be your most meaningful relationships. The outer circle will be those connections that are meaningful but not as strong as the others. How do you feel about your circles? Do you seek support and give support? If not, why not?