I’ve learned a lot in my healing walk this past year and a half, but I realize also that–since writing up the depression device trial a year ago–I’ve shared very little of it. I’m comfortable being dogmatic about the planet and our place on it, apparently, but shy about posting about matters of the heart that are so critical to being good planetary tenants.
I write /against/ failed social, economic, and political forces picking apart our biosphere but rarely write /for/ basic inter- and intra-personal practices required for building and sustaining a healthy society supportive of the needs of all of earth’s families. It’s easier to decry a problem than craft a solution. But there’s another reason for my reticence. It’s rooted in my own history, my personal pain, and this resulting general distrust of people and resistance of intimacy. It’s not a unique story or experience.
But here’s where I step out and start to correct that pattern.
A basic, and easily overlooked, path to sustainability has to do with how we are with each other. Want to change the world and live a whole and healthy life (ie. be happy)? Consider that loving relationships (deep friendships, supportive romantic partnerships, healthy family connections) not only help ward off illness and help us heal faster, but actually help us live longer.
Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.
Conversely, a relative lack of social ties is associated with depression and later-life cognitive decline, as well as with increased mortality. One study, which examined data from more than 309,000 people, found that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.
And yet one in four Americans have no friends or family members they are close to. There is simply no one in their lives.
As I’ve explored San Antonio’s volunteer landscape, I’ve found that a desperate need exists from our youngest residents (more children are abused and exploited in Texas than almost any other state and Bexar County is full of them) and among our elders (many of the hospice clients, for instance, have no one who comes to see them, they linger and die alone, apart from the volunteers and staff).
Child abuse and neglect rates by state:
So if you want to heal yourself and change the world: find someone who is alone and be with them. It’s that simple.
Relationships are hard. Real hard for some us us. But the need for them is deep and their power to transform is real. If you are looking for a place to connect, I’ve found Volunteer Match helpful in getting started.
On a local note: I read a lot about our new Decade of Downtown but surprisingly little about providing for the needs of all San Antonians. I see an enthusiasm for our city’s rising hipness quotient but rarely see folks obsessing over questions of inclusiveness.
Too many times I’ve seen news articles that cast the poor and marginalized—those already feeling the squeeze of low-“tolerance” local policies, fears, and prejudices–as impediments to our collective happiness. The funny thing is, I’m pretty sure that it is with the most needy that our happiness lives.
If you have an hour or two a week to offer, check out some volunteering opportunities. And if your work schedule is too compressed for even that, consider taking a weekly 30-minute coffee break with someone you think you like (and maybe could even love). Make a commitment to building something, a relationship, to make love a priority. I think you won’t be disappointed.
Top image courtesy of documentary photographer Jim Hubbard.