People need people. And often they don’t realize how great their need is until some moment of great joy or deep sorrow. At some point in your life you’ve probably experienced this yourself—wanting to share some great news with a friend or, perhaps during hard times, needing care and support from others.
When social contact is increased or loneliness reduced, the immune system seems to strengthen.
Who Gets Sick
Less obvious is the need for strong, positive day-to-day relationships. Just as children need to be physically touched, stroked, and held in order to develop normally, all people need emotional stroking for a healthy, well-balanced life. A "stroke" is any form of stimulation or recognition that arouses feelings. Strokes may be positive,such as smiles, hugs, and loving words, or negative, like brush-offs, cold stares, slaps, or reprimands. Whether they are positive or negative, "strokes" confirm that you exist and that you matter, and this validation is essential to human survival.
It's alarming to realize that if people don’t get life-affirming strokes, they will seek them out in death-
promoting ways rather than suffer the condition of being a nonentity. Many people use illnesses of body, mind, and spirit, both consciously and unconsciously, to get attention, touching, stimulation, and something to do.
One of the healthiest things you can do for yourself is to cultivate vibrant friendships—the kind that will supply you with the genuine support everyone needs, friendships in which you can dare to reveal your feelings, act spontaneously, care, touch, and serve. Stimulating and supportive relationships with other human beings are tremendous blessings—to the body, the mind, and the spirit.
A twenty-year survey of adults in the U.S. reported that, regardless of health problems, people who participated in formal social networks of some type outlived those who did not. An affiliation with a social network was found to be the strongest predictor of longevity, even above age, sex, or health. "When people are counting on you, you have a reason to get up in the morning," one researcher said.
The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.
Keeping a Relationship Vibrant
Rich human relationships aren’t sustained by accident. A good marriage lasts because it is renewed day after day after day. Healthy relationships of all kinds will last and deepen if, like other growing things, they are watered and fed, and even pruned on a regular basis. Making the sustenance and maintenance of friendships a part of everyday life is an invaluable enhancement of your wellness.
The following suggestions are from long-term friends and married partners for simple things you can do to nourish the relationships that are important to you and to guarantee a loving environment for yourself.
Right now: Before reading any more in this book or starting another project, take five minutes to write a two- or three-line note of appreciation or thanks to someone you care about. Send it out in the next mail or e-mail.
Reprinted with permission, from Simply Well by John W. Travis, MD, & Regina Sara Ryan. Copyright 2001. Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA.
The online version of Dr. Travis' Wellness Inventory may be accessed at (www.WellPeople.com). The Wellness Inventory may also be licensed by coaches, health and wellness professionals, and organizations.