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.
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.
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.
- Respect the other. Do this even when you disagree over issues. Approach your partner or a friend with the same deference that you would pay to some hero or heroine—a great person you admire. Be kind, be kind, be kind! Honor the differences between you, and avoid trying to control the other, even subtly, to suit your ideas of who they are or how they should be. Encourage conversation that allows you both to share your goodness of spirit.
- Be brand-new. Allow your friends and partners to be brand-new, too. Recognize another human being as a profound mystery that will never be solved. When you give up presuppositions about the way someone has “always been” you give the other a green light to change and grow. If you remember to stay new, you are more likely to continue the courtship—dress for dinner, bring flowers, or listen to the other’s stories—with the same exhilaration and respect that you had when you first met.
- Give attention to small gestures. These will provide pleasure or happiness to your friend or partner. A hot cup of tea brought to their bed in the morning, remembering the other with a small gift or a card, a small compliment—these are the little touches that build great friendships.
- Take risks and continue to share something new. Keep growing in new ways yourself. Taking risks may be as simple as taking a seminar or class, reading books in areas that you generally don’t explore, or traveling. Money needn’t be an obstacle to experimentation and surprise. Honor your own dreams and keep moving toward them—that builds your self-esteem and invites your friends and partners to do the same.
- Retain some rituals. Celebrate holidays or anniversaries of important occasions, or share your spiritual or religious practices with your friends and family. Honor your traditions and your roots.
- Pray for each other, as well as for others. Whatever form prayer takes in your life—a traditional religious form or a simple positive mental remembrance—it is a significant way to build your connections with others beyond mere physical contact.
- Put attention into honest communication. Use empathic listening. Set aside times to periodically clear the air of any questions or resentments that may have been building between you. Read a book together about how to improve communications, or take a class or seminar on the subject. Give yourself permission to say no as well as yes to your friend, and you will be doing your friend a great favor in the long run.
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 (http://www.BodyMindSpirit.com). The Wellness Inventory may also be licensed by coaches, health and wellness professionals, and organizations.