Prioritize time with friends if you value your health

Do you prioritize your friendships?

Studies show—and common sense should confirm—that lives are healthier and happier when they include regular time spent in agreeable company. Getting together for coffee with a friend is as worthwhile an endeavor as hitting the gym or having your annual physical with the doctor.Espresso in demitasse cup on cafe table

“[R]esearchers have predicted that loneliness will reach epidemic proportions by 2030 unless action is taken”

and

“Current evidence indicates that heightened risk for mortality from a lack of social relationships is greater than that from obesity”

Quotes from a 2015 Meta analysis of research on loneliness/social isolation and its effect on health by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, et. al.

Yet, somehow, our culture presses us to “make time” for work (primarily) as if time can be spun from willpower alone and also lionizes those whose sexual relationships fit an idealized mold. Subsequent emphasis is then given to the familial obligations that result when offspring commonly results from the latter.

Woman hugs childTo the exclusion of all else, the role of spouse and, maybe, parent, especially if you’re a woman is presumed to offer all the emotional support one person needs, tacitly proclaiming romantic love* a panacea for every type of companionship.

Unfortunately, that notion is tragically flawed, placing outrageous pressure on one person to be “everything” to another when that is neither probable nor healthy. It kills marriages, leaving lonely people feeling like failures when they’ve followed the common wisdom and left their friendships behind after coupling.

Human beings are social creatures. We evolved to live in communities.

I’ve got it easier than most as chronic illness forces me to confront my limitations on a regular basis. If I wasn’t skilled at aligning my actions to my values before I got sick, having my physical energies truncated again and againand again so repeatedly has brought my focus to the point.

It’s a fine, sharp point, too!

Men, in particular, may literally be dying from loneliness, though social isolation is increasing for all genders. “Social” media is simply not sufficient to nurture human health and happiness.

People seated in beneath stone arches in Barcelona restaurantThough, by all means, keep reading my blog.

Call a friend. Make a date. Visit the pub. Take time to play a game together. Put it in your calendar, and prioritize it! Your other successes will mean very little if you go early to your grave for want of meaningful companionship.

*Modern philosopher Roman Krznaric wrote a wonderful article on how our interpretation of the thing we call “love” and how ours differs from that of the ancient Greeks. I highly recommend both the short article and his full length book containing the same work as a chapter.

Book How should we live - 1Search for: How Should We Live?: Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life

Expressing appreciation while we can: exponential blessings

I think it is a wonder that our facile brains let us forget how lucky we are.

We should all cultivate gratitude, but it isn’t always easy. Modern media showers us with glimpses into lives so luxurious that even overfed Americans have room to feel hungry. We adapt so readily to both ease and discomfort that almost any conditions are bearable by the almost infinitely flexible human being.

I’m thinking along these lines because of a revelation from a friend. I won’t go into the details of someone else’s story, but suffice to say that a person whose company I enjoy has had a rather significant change in the fundamental status of her life.

I learned about this on Thanksgiving day.

Thanksgiving turkey cookie - 1Between the early morning “raw turkey wrangling” hours and the pre-dinner “just in time” food prep marathon, I spent a few minutes beginning a post about the amount of work that a traditional Thanksgiving meal entails. It is a great holiday, and I like it a lot, but it is easy to overlook the awesome scale of effort involved before you host your first dinner party for 20.

I was feeling a little pleased with myself; I liked the tone I’d struck in the piece. Mildly ironic, just how I like it, and a little funny and self-deprecating, but with a healthy dose of gratitude and awareness of my unreasonable bounty of blessings.

Seriously, no one person should get as much as I’ve got. That husband! Those sons! An embarrassment of riches!

And then came this short conversation, late in the day, with this friend of mine. It was a shock. In many ways, life will never be the same for the parties involved. It was nothing I was expecting on that Thursday afternoon. I thought my worries were oven once the meal had been served.

As a result, you get to read a rather enigmatic post that reveals nothing too personal about some stranger who can start her own blog if she wants to talk about her stuff… Yet I could not skip saying something about this.

I have to make this one point. I need to do it now.

Today is precious. The people around you are treasures to be recognized and enjoyed* while you have them. It can all change on a dime, and much of it is well beyond our mortal control.

Thank your wife. Love your children. Tell someone how much you appreciate them, or what they’ve done for you, or how they’ve impacted your life and made it better.

Life is too short; our memories can be, too. Try never to make the mistake of leaving gratitude, and good tidings, and loving gestures until they are too late.

Reach out today, and share your emotional wealth.

No one has ever said, “Gee, what a waste of time it was that I told so&so I loved her.” Regrets, however, abound.

*Though it is true: some treasures are better left where you found them. They will be discovered, and cherished, by someone else. But I will stand by this statement: every person is a treasure beyond measure.

Learning language as a gift to people we may meet

“I want to go everywhere and understand everyone. I never will, but it does motivate me.

It’s amazing how people respond when you [as a visitor] use even a little of their language, though. Like you’re offering a gift. And, I suppose, we [language learners] are: that of our time and attention.”

This post started as a reply to a comment left by Torazakana, a Japanese language learner whose efforts and accomplishments leave mine in the dust.

I include “living 3+ months in a foreign country with a different language” on my bucket list, but the longest I’ve stayed abroad yet was three weeks in Europe after finishing college. That was fun, but emphatically a tourist experience, not one of cultural or linguistic immersion.Beach sunset - 1

I don’t expect to be admired or congratulated for the work I do on foreign languages. I enjoy the challenge, the mental stimulation, and the sense of accomplishment from doing something more useful than binge watching Netflix. I like setting an example for my kids of lifelong learning and self improvement.

But I really love the light that comes into the eye of a friendly native speaker when I make an effort to communicate in their tongue, according to their terms. I love to give this gift. I revel in the return offering of goodwill and appreciation.

Even more than my (sometimes laughable) attempts at, say, Icelandic and its multitude of challenging sounds, or Catalan that tricks me repeatedly with its brushes against both Spanish and French concealing a reality of total independence, more than any speech itself, the international interpersonal connection is in the attempt. It is the reaching out that bridges the divide.

Language itself is just walking across the bridge that sincere effort built.