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

Café notes: Coffee, the Congo, and Lynn Nottage’s play, “Ruined”

I had a great cup of single origin Congo Ituri coffee at the mall last week.

NZ restaurant espresso - 1This is remarkable for several reasons:

  • First, I was at the mall.*
  • Second, I got a great cup of specialty coffee therein.
  • Third, my beautiful pour over arrived with a side order of coincidence.

I simply haven’t the foodie palate or terminology to give you a better explanation for why my cup of coffee was so great, but the barista on duty that day was particularly knowledgeable. He probably prepared my cup with great skill. Certainly the flavor profile of the beans and the roast landed right in the sweet spot for my tastes.

What struck me as I sat down in the café with my cup and opened my library book was the coincidence. Here’s the top of the first page of Lynn Nottage’s play, Ruined, setting the scene:

“ACT ONE, Scene 1: A small mining town. The sounds of the tropical Ituri rain forest. Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The tropical Ituri rain forest? It rang a bell. I went back up to the café counter and read the menu board once more.

That day, the Nordstrom Espresso Bar was offering a Congo Ituri microlot coffee in the light roast** I prefer. Probably why I’d chosen it from amongst several offerings, including a light roast Kona I’ve enjoyed before.

I drink Ethiopian Yirgacheffe pretty often, and regularly select it preferentially, but I haven’t hit upon another African region for beans that’s become a steady favorite. I’ll certainly seek out more Congolese coffees moving forward, however, on the strength of this one notably wonderful cup.

But here are a few painful questions that I can’t answer, all stimulated by the tough subject matter of Nottage’s play that I read while sipping said cup.

  • How sustainable is coffee cultivation in DR Congo?
  • Does coffee cultivation there typically help the Congolese people, and especially the vulnerable women of Congo whose plight is underscored in Ruined? Is it a path helping average people rise above the legacy of the nation’s bloody civil wars?
  • Are major brands like Nordstrom and Starbucks doing enough to support the individual coffee farmer in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Or are these rich corporations paying less than they should for their beans because they’ve got the might to get away with it?

Honestly, I can’t answer any of these questions after a few days of searching.

Coffee is a delight to me. It is one of my daily pleasures, and, yes, a minor addiction. Coffee is also one the world’s most valuable legal commodities, like petroleum or precious metals. It’s big business on the order of tens of billions of dollars per year, and the needs of the coffee plant itself dictate that it be grown in what are often unstable, developing regions.

It can be hard to evaluate for oneself whether a coffee purchase meets one’s personal standards for ethical sales, environmental sustainability, etc.

Thanksgiving Coffee bean package of Ethiopia YirgacheffeThanksgiving Coffee, an artisan roaster I’ve patronized many times, encapsulates best what a consumer like me seeks with their motto: Not Just a Cup, but a Just Cup. I want to drink great coffee, but I’d prefer not to do so on the backs of modern day slaves.

Nottage’s Ruined is not, I should add, a play about coffee. Its setting is a bar/brothel, and beer, whiskey, and Fanta are the beverages I recall from the script. The subject matter is intense, and should be painful to anyone with an interest in social justice. Or to anyone with a heart.

Like other works I’ve read/seen by this playwright, Ruined is a story about women getting by in a world where someone else wields most of the power. It’s a tale of making do with one’s terrible circumstances, and coming to terms with it all as best as one can.

One needn’t look as far as the Congo to find such injustice and resilience, either. We’ve got plenty of it here at home in America. One of the best plays I’ve seen performed this decade was Nottage’s Sweat*** at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Aside from being a masterful work in and of itself, Sweat also inspired an “immersive transmedia” art project This is Reading in Reading, PA, the Rust Belt setting for that tale of struggle.

It can be hard to unravel the threads of thoughtful consumption in an era of broad scale multinational trade. You could give up completely, or simply begin where you can: by asking questions, and by sharing what you learn. My quick research into coffee farming in the Congo led me to more new questions than answers. Yours may yield better fruit.

Where we all benefit is by calling attention to those with less power than ourselves, and making even small efforts to do them good. Our strength increases with numbers; so, too, does our ability to enact positive change.

*The mall is not my natural habitat.

**As I understand it, it is easier to identify the flavorful nuances of a particular bean when the roast is lighter. I think I’m looking for extra complexity in my cup.

It’s a common misconception that dark roast coffee is “stronger” in every way than light. Roasting destroys some of the caffeine in the beans, so breakfast blends are usually a medium roast to maintain their power to perk!

Dark roast coffee has a deeper color, but it isn’t stronger in every sense of the word.

A few days later, I found two distinct Reserve varietals from different regions of the Congo at a local Starbucks with a Clover machine (used for making specialty single brews and not offered at most locations.) I enjoyed a cup of Idjwi Island Reserve, but not quite as much as the Nordstrom Congo Ituri.

But NOT the world’s second most valuable commodity, as you’ll see misstated all over the internet. My brief bit of research suggests that was true back in the 1970’s or so, but hasn’t been factual for quite some time. If you want to read more, try this article.

***And, in what has been my favorite performance in years, I must draw attention to the quiet dignity of actor Carlo Albán who traveled with Sweat from its world premiere at OSF to New York City. He played an often nearly invisible busboy in the play, usually reacting to the “bigger” characters swirling around him, and did it with such a beautiful, aching intensity that I was frankly honored to spend a few hours with him at an OSF dinner later on. I’m not the only one who was similarly affected by Mr. Albán!