People talk about balancing the mind-body-spirit triad as the time-honored pathway to wellness. And it’s absolutely true. Yet there’s a fourth dimension – community – that doesn’t get specific attention but adds immeasurably to all other aspects of wellness.
“Interconnectedness or social relationships is one of the markers of emotional intelligence,” says Karen McIntyre, L.C.S.W., licensed therapist at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. “Relationships help us know our world and who we are.”
In addition to the obvious joys of companionship, we learn from all the people in our lives, and they show us things about themselves and us. They enrich our inner lives with fresh perspective, support, challenge, acceptance and just plain fun. But while people say their friends are integral to their happiness, it’s often hard to get together.
It seems everyone is busy with work, family, travel and a thousand other commitments. How do you make time for friends when you barely have time to breathe?
In a techno-centric world, it’s easy to be cut off from people, Karen says, and social media like Facebook can take the place of actual face time. “We’re just now learning about the effects of cyber relationships. Certainly there are people who rely on social media because they are less mobile or simply prefer computers. It’s also a wonderful way to rekindle relationships with people you thought were lost to you, and to stay in touch with people far away. When we can, though, it’s good to err on the human side.”
Karen suggests that meeting someone for coffee just once a month can keep a friendship alive. It could be with your oldest friend – the person who always warms your spirit – or someone you know more casually. “It’s not always about in-depth relationships. Sometimes just coming together for coffee and a chat is very satisfying.”
Both research and common sense point to an association between friendship and happiness, longevity, and overall health. Our closest confidantes become like family, too; they become our chosen sisters and brothers wherever we are in life.
Maybe your connection to community has been hampered by circumstances, or you simply feel a need to expand your circle. You might have moved to a new area and feel like you’re starting from scratch. It can be hard to get out there among strangers and make new friends. Where do you start? Karen says there are plenty of positive, low-stress ways to connect.
“Focus on an activity you enjoy rather than on the people,” she says. “When you find a class or community project that matters to you, the social interaction is wrapped around a common goal.
“If you like hiking, join the Sierra Club. Love to sing? Join a choir. Book clubs, teams, the arts, a church – personal relationships are embedded in all of them.”
Give a hand
Focusing on mind, body and spirit is beautiful and important work; however, it can be mainly inward. Looking beyond ourselves and at other people’s needs is a way to enhance life for everyone.
“Volunteering builds community around a cause greater than any one of us,” Karen says. Taking the spotlight off your own needs is both healthy and rewarding. Whether you’re helping to protect the environment, building low-cost housing or reading to a child, you make life better for you as well as others. Your fellow volunteers will also become part of your community, guided by similar values and interests.
Friends for life
Maintaining friendships and social connections has been identified in research as a common thread among people who live to be 100. Balancing mind, body, spirit and community is an ongoing project, and today is the perfect time to start.