Just recently I came across Dr. Julian Abel who talks about the power of compassion and the impact of good social relationships on mortality, and on health and happiness. Abel is a palliative care doctor from the UK who found that compassion and social relationships are often more therapeutic than medications. He is involved in a project in a small town in the UK where patients are prescribed ‘interventions of compassionate community’; they are connected to community activities like talking cafés or walking groups. They discovered that patients who are involved in communal events regularly don’t only benefit emotionally, but physical symptoms reduce dramatically as well.
Good social connections lead to healthy old age and longevity.
Good social relationships change the biochemistry in our bodies, for instance, the ‘nurturing and socializing hormone’ oxytocin is increased whereas stress hormones are decreased. Compassion doesn’t only make you feel good, but has a profound impact on our health and longevity. In 30 years of practice in palliative care, Abel has never had one patient who would state: ‘Gosh, I wish I had worked harder.’ But many did regret that they hadn’t spent more time with their children or their spouse. The ones that died peacefully were mostly the ones that had a good life with friends and family around.
Deep meaningful connections are the key for happiness and health.
When it comes to social relationships, it is not the number of friends that count. You can be lonely in a crowd or lonely in your marriage. It is the quality of connection that is important according to the ‘Adult Men Development Studies’ at Havard, the world’s longest running studies on happiness and health. One of the leaders Robert Waldinger said: “There was a strong correlation between men’s flourishing lives and their relationships with family, friends, and community. Those who kept warm relationships got to live longer and happier.” Abel is backed up by this study which main outcome is: Social relationships are more effective at keeping us alive and feeling healthy than diet, exercise or giving up smoking or drinking.
Science has been studied the impact of good social relationships for decades.
Yet this knowledge has not penetrated our health care system. Generally, doctors don’t prescribe ‘Go out with your friends’ or ‘Spend more quality time with your spouse’. The outcome of those studies has also not affected the way we live our daily lives: There is still so much emphasis on acquiring wealth, houses or cars. Western capitalism has led us to believe we are happier with more stuff. This culture encourages us to focus on hard work, seek prosperity or fame, and neglect or ignore our relationships to our beautiful planet, to other human beings and to ourselves. People start to realize that this life-style is not sustainable as it exploits the resources of our planet as well as our own individual resources. In the long run, it has a negative impact on our environment as well as on ourselves – physically and emotionally.
Good relationships with others start with a good connection to oneself.
In this culture, it is easy to lose the connection to oneself. We are focused on the external world, we get distracted, we may not make enough time for ourselves. If we are connecting to others without having the resources, we may end up tired and exhausted, we may give too much without having clear boundaries, or the contacts to others may not be as satisfying and meaningful. To get the full benefit of good social relationships it is essential to tend to yourself as a baseline.
Connecting to ourselves takes awareness, presence – and practice!
Checking in with ourselves is an art. Finding calm and quiet time during the day and listening to ourselves all help to cultivate self-connection and self-compassion. There are many different ways to attend to ourselves: Yoga, mindful breathing, practicing Constructive Rest, writing in a journal, or spending time in Nature. We are getting in touch with our emotions, our needs, and our heart. Alexander Technique, Reflexology and Bach Remedies all offer a unique approach to nourish the connection to ourselves for more clarity, inner freedom and joy!
May you nurture a warm relationship with yourself and with your loved ones during this festive season and beyond!