For most of us, quality of life is likely determined by relationships, not by things,
according to research.
As we age, life can present harsh realities as we lose loved ones and close friends to death or distance. Recovering from the loss of those close to us can be challenging and perhaps even impede success in aging well. We can feel abandoned and less confident when we lose those who understand us best. It can be life-changing.
What direction do we go? Do we withdraw into ourselves or risk the challenge of developing new relationships and exposing our vulnerabilities? Do we allow an emotional death to consume us before a physical death?
Even though most older adults are generally physically and mentally alert, making new friends can be a lot of work. Is it worth the effort? Or is it simply easier to withdraw into our own reality and live with our memories while our lives wither away.
“A blessing of these latter years is that they offer us the chance to be excited by new personalities, new warmth, new activities, new people all over again,” Joan Chittister
wrote in her 2008 book, “The Gift of Years – Growing Older Gracefully.”
“It demands that we set out to make tomorrow happy.”
We also know from research that healthy relationships can increase our sense of worth, help build confidence and encourage us to learn more about ourselves. We know that
building those relationships takes time and positive effort. The Harvard University Study
on Adult Development found the relationships we develop and maintain in our lives have a greater impact than events we experience. In fact, the study states those relationships are
associated with a significantly reduced risk of dying early! Social connections are a leading
predictor of aging well.
So, what are the characteristics of a good relationship? Maya Angelou says “the most
called-upon prerequisite of a friend, is an accessible ear.” Good relationships usually include open communication, respect, trust, understanding, honesty, intimacy (sharing
vulnerabilities), equality, commitment, both shared and individual interests and simple
care about each other.
TheLoveBits.com offers this bit of wisdom: “A great relationship is about two things. First, appreciating the similarities, and second, respecting the differences.”
BUILDING NEW RELATIONSHIPS
Here’s where to start:
• Analyze your current acquaintances to see if any are interesting enough to spend more time with. Make the effort to reach out to them.
• Go to places where people share some common interests, like a church, a community event or educational programs.
• Volunteer for a group, charity or club that support activities that match your interests or
that you want to explore.
• Accept invitations when received and be willing to reciprocate on those invitations. Simply being available to nurture a potential new relationship is very important to the process.
• Harvest the health benefits, including lower blood pressure, reduced risk of depression and often even a lower body mass index (BMI). In short, new relationships can provide the
necessary emotional support to cope with daily stresses and tasks.
Ron Smith is a Maricopa resident and an aging-in-place advocate. He is a member of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee and Maricopa Senior Coalition and a
certified Aging-in-Place specialist.