Investing in Social Fitness – Guaranteed Returns
Every human is hunting for happiness. We seek it through material things, food, drink, entertainment, exercise, vacations, jobs, etc. As we all know, some of these provide longer lasting fulfillment than others. However, Harvard has been conducting a study since 1938 on what really makes us happy. It’s the longest longitudinal study (repeated observations of the same variables over long periods of time) on human life ever done. The conclusion? What really makes us happy (and healthy) are good relationships. Like anything else worthy in life, these require time and effort, which is what the study directors have dubbed “social fitness”.
Well, the lessons aren't about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.
Of course, social fitness is not to be confused with social media. Rather, it’s the opposite. According to the study directors, the average American spent 11 hours every day on solitary activities in 2018, such as watching TV or being online. It’s our guess that has probably only risen post-pandemic. We are not prioritizing our relationships, and it’s causing loneliness.
We’ve all experienced being lonely. However, a persistency in this feeling can have a pronounced physical effect on the body. It can make people more sensitive to pain, suppress their immune system, diminish brain function, and disrupt sleep. In fact, one study found that for older adults, loneliness is far more dangerous than obesity. Ongoing loneliness raises a person’s odds of death by 26% in any given year.
Of course, loneliness is subjective. One person that’s active with a large social network may still feel lonely while another that lives alone with few close contacts may still feel very connected. The goal is to identify and nurture relationships with people who make you feel energized or who you’d like to spend more time with. It doesn’t have to be your most significant relationship.
Social fitness is just taking a more proactive approach to this. The directors of the Harvard study suggest spending a few moments to draw up your current social universe. Think about how your relationships are faring and what you wish you could be different about them. What are you receiving? What are you giving? What would you like to change? Schedule time if needed. Don’t rely on happenstance.
Investing in social fitness is possible each day and week of our lives. Even small investments can have compounding returns on our health and well-being.