Written by Dr Jenny Brockis board-certified lifestyle medicine physician & author
You choose to eat healthily. You incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, and you endeavour to get a good night’s sleep. But the one thing that makes the biggest difference to how well you live are your friends.
Back in 1938 the world’s longest longitudinal study began to answer the question, “What makes for a good life?” The school of adult development followed two different groups of men over the course of their lives. The first group were all Harvard sophomores. The second, young men from the lowest socioeconomic areas of Boston.
“The single factor for your success in life
is the strength of your closest relationships.”
What the researchers found over the course of the study (which is continuing today) is that it doesn’t matter where you are born, which school you went to, whether you went to college, or how much money you earned.
The single factor for your success in life is the strength of your closest relationships. Having friends helps you to be more resilient, brings you greater happiness and joy and enables you to get the most out of life.
Social connection keeps you healthy and happy.
We are social creatures. We have a strong desire to belong, to be part of a group, a tribe, or a family. Social connection keeps us safe, firstly from an evolutionary perspective we were less likely to get picked off by a predator and today our friendships act as a buffer against all the trials and tribulations we encounter daily, and reduces the risk of loneliness or developing anxiety or depression.
Your need to be seen, heard, and understood.
It’s good to be noticed. Not necessarily in a narcissistic way but in a way that demonstrates that you matter and are seen as the glorious unique human being you are. In every social interaction whether with someone you know well, or a stranger you pass in the street, that moment of eye contact, a warm smile and a cheery hello shows the other person they have been seen.
In her TED talk, psychologist Susan David shares the Zulu greeting for ‘hello’. ‘Sawubona’. It translates into, “I see you; you are important to me, and I value you.”
Wow, does that feel a little more potent than, ‘hi’!
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Oxytocin is the hormone released by the brain signalling it is safe to proceed and stay with this other person or group. It’s the first step towards establishing trust. The greatest amount of oxytocin released is not surprisingly when you are with the people you love the most.
In addition, giving your full and undivided attention to the other person helps them to know, not only that they matter, but that they are significant, have valuable things to share and they are better understood. This builds confidence and self-esteem, you’re now ready to conquer the world.
Nurturing friendships starts with you.
Like everyone else, you are busy and it can be so easy to slip out of the routine of staying in contact with your friends. Living through a global pandemic with all its restrictions and requirements to stay at home, stay physically distanced, and not travel have made it harder to stay in touch.
Coupled to the high levels of stress, uncertainty, and anxiety, you may have been less willing to venture out to be with others, preferring to keep your own company to stay safe. While understandable, this is not helpful to your wellbeing or your friends.
What if you determined to be more social, whether face-to-face or virtually?
This could take the form of:
Scheduling a regular phone call, zoom or facetime session with a family member or friend.
Using an app like WhatsApp to quickly share ideas and events.
Sending a letter. Yes, by snail mail rather than online. There’s something far more meaningful in receiving a hand-written note or card.
Show your gratitude to your friends. Thank them more often for being there for you and for bringing more light into your life.
Smile more. In a genuine way. Your positive emotion is infectious and will impact others even if they can’t physically see you, they will hear it in your voice.
Being proactive in arranging catch ups. Yes, you’re way too busy and often very tired but spending time with family and good friends is energising and makes you and them feel good.
Just spending time in each other’s company. Speaking isn’t necessary to share a wonderful moment in nature or listening to music.
By cherishing the time with those who mean the most and by seeking more micro moments of connection with fellow human beings, you get the full benefit that friendship brings and that is surely the most precious thing any of us can ever have.
Author of this article:
Dr Jenny Brockis is a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician and author. specialising in workplace wellbeing. Jenny’s approach to overcoming life’s challenges is based on practical neuroscience which enables people to understand their thoughts and actions leading to effective behavioural change. Jenny’s latest book Thriving Mind – How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available via her website.
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Thriving Mind – How to Cultivate a Good Life
by Dr Jenny Brockis
Best-selling author Dr. Jenny Brockis draws on over thirty years’ experience as a medical practitioner & board-certified lifestyle medicine physician. It covers common issues such as:
· Loneliness, stress, relationship breakdowns
· Loss of social connection & mental health issues.
Readers learn how to:
· Achieve happiness by engaging emotions & mindfulness
· Harness your biology for better energy, resilience & mood
· Enrich your relationships with compassion, respect & courage
· Allows you to take full control of your life.
Thriving Mind empowers readers with the tools & strategies to reclaim humanity & happiness.
Thriving Mind $27.97 https://www.drjennybrockis.com/thriving-mind-book/