In 1938, Harvard researchers embarked on a decades-long study to find out: What makes us happy in life? 85 years later they found it. Contrary to what you might think, it’s not career achievement, money, exercise, or a healthy diet. It is positive relationships that keep us happier, healthier, and help us live longer.
Humans are social creatures, and relationships affect us physically. The researchers found that to make sure your relationships are healthy and balanced, it’s important to practice “social fitness.” Social fitness “requires taking stock of our relationships, and being honest with ourselves about where we’re devoting our time and whether we are tending to the connections that help us thrive.”
I have been thinking alot about this lately. I recently returned from a trip to Nashville for The Heads Network annual conference – A Positive Mindset for School Leadership. It included one of the best leadership workshops I have ever attended taught by Leadership + Design. The highlight of the weekend, however, was connecting in person with a group of creative and intelligent school leaders who mean the world to me. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which we felt isolated, disconnected, and anxious, the return to being with family and friends is so joyful. I also exercised some retail fitness, but that is another story.
The Harvard study reveals seven measures of social fitness.
- Safety and security: Who would you turn to in a moment of crisis?
- Learning and growth: Who encourages you to try new things, to take chances, to pursue your life’s goals?
- Emotional closeness and confiding: Who knows everything (or most things) about you?
- Identity affirmation and shared experience: Who has shared many experiences with you and who helps you strengthen your sense of who you are?
- Romantic intimacy: self explanatory!
- Help: Who do you turn to if you need some expertise or help solving a practical problem.
- Fun and relaxation: Who makes you feel connected and at ease?
We all need the people in our lives who fulfill these needs, and we need to intentionally strengthen our relationships with them – social fitness. I love this new term and plan to put it in motion in my life. I have a close friend who is retiring soon. When I asked her what her retirement plan is she said, I am going to reconnect with all my family and friends whom I have been too busy working to see regularly. It made me think that I need to practice social fitness. Easier said than done with all of our busy lives, but just as you exercise your body, you need to exercise your mind and heart.
It is never too late to deepen the connections that matter to you. Start the heavy lifting now.