In honor of this week’s controversial holiday, I want to highlight one of the things that Valentine’s Day gets right - celebrating the love and connection in our life.
One of the most overlooked aspects of health is the concept of community. Dan Buettner is the man who studied and identified the Blue Zones - five areas of the world where people live the longest and the healthiest lives: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California. These areas all share some common themes that are purported to support their longevity. One of the main tenets is this idea of connection + community - they frequently share meals with friends, are part of groups (usually faith-based), and they put family first, keeping aging parents close, committing to a life partner and investing their time and love into their kids.
Having a strong social and support network has been shown to help with everything from lowering rates of depression, reducing stress, improving immunity, and supporting longevity. Having family and friends that you can count on and spend time with is huge. If you don’t have a lot of family or friends then volunteering or belonging to a community group or club can provide the same benefits.
As an introvert and someone who not only needs, but strongly prefers time alone, prioritizing the time to spend with people I love can seem like a big effort. I’ve also never been one to have a huge group of friends - I have several close friends from various stages of my life (middle school/high school, college and early twenties). I’m close to my family, talking to my mom and brother on the phone at least once a week, with lots of texting in-between.
Sometimes meeting up with a friend can feel like a thing I’m forcing myself to do, but I’ve learned at this point that I always feel better afterwards. Connecting and bonding with a friend makes me feel less alone, more understood and improves my mood. It’s also really satisfying to nurture friendships and watch them grow as each person goes through different stages of life. Focusing on this end result gets me out of the house every time.
I do better in small groups and especially prefer one-on-one hangouts with my friends, so I try to do that as much as I possibly can. Large groups stress me out and I often end up feeling disconnected from those around me, not to mention energetically drained. I’ll be there for the big things (birthday parties, bachelorette parties, weddings, etc.) but if it’s just a night out with a bunch of people, I’ll probably pass and chose to spend quality time with you on another day.
This week I encourage you to put a little extra effort into your relationships - whether that’s with a romantic partner, friends, family or even co-workers. Let the people in your life know that you appreciate them. Spend time with them if you can. You’ll feel better immediately and the long-term payoff is undeniable.