Think Social Connections are a waste of time? Think again.
There is a difference between being Alone and being Lonely. You can be married with kids still at home and still feel lonely. Loneliness occurs not only when your social life is less active than you’d like but also when you don’t get the level of intimacy you need from the relationships you do have.
Loneliness is not just a state of mind. Studies find that feeling lonely significantly increases your risk of heart disease and depression and that lonely people are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those with stronger social connections. In fact, loneliness is just as threatening to our overall health as obesity!
The health benefits of social connections are significant whether you are a natural loner or a natural socialite. The only thing that may be different is the quality of the interactions that are beneficial to you. If you’re a loner, it may mean you don’t have a lot of intimate relations, but it does mean the social relations you do maintain are more important than ever. Older people may lose family, friends, and work, but most compensate by optimizing the relationships they make. That means taking that weekly golf game a step further and having lunch or drinks afterward to enhance the relationship and learn more about your golf partners, sharing personal stories and issues with friends so they become more than just acquaintances, and working at friendships.
No matter what stage in life you are in right now, having social connections are important. Here are some ideas if you feel this is one area you are lacking in.
Revive the Dinner party ritual
When was the last time you invited four people over for dinner? Once, dinner parties were a natural part of life. But over time, they’ve become less common. Change that. The fanciness of your cooking is not important. You can even order take out. What’s important is the opportunity to sit at a table together , not rushed by a waiter or intimidated by crowds or noise, and to talk freely over a glass of wine and a plate of food. Make a vow: Two Sundays from now, you’re having guests!
Join a club
Like to drink wine? Check with your local wine store. They’ll have information on wine groups in your community. If not, put a flyer up in the store offering to start one. The store will probably even host the first meeting! The key here is to take something you already love – tasting wine, solving puzzles, scrap-booking, knitting, swimming, fishing, woodworking, gardening – and turn it from a solitary activity into a social one. The wine club formula works for nearly any hobby.
Meet your Neighbors
You probably know the FedEx guy better than you know the cat lady you’ve lived next door to for six years. Bake a plate of cookies and ring her doorbell, throw a barbecue for a few neighboring households, organize a block party, or start a neighborhood newsletter, in print or online, to get to know the people surrounding you.
Register for some college courses
If you never went to college or never had a chance to finish, now is the time. The more education you have, studies find, the more social connections you have as you age. Conversely, the less education you have, the more likely you are to become a loner because you don’t trust others enough. Besides a higher education, you have a chance to meet people with the same interest as you. A college course can be fun (like singing, art, learning Spanish or even taking a stand-up comedy class).
Nothing makes a person feel more wanted and appreciated than volunteering. This is advice for ANY age. We know this instinctively, but researchers around the world have reams of data to prove it. When you help others, your own sense of control increases. With a stronger sense of control, you’re less likely to feel depressed. Volunteering also helps with having gratitude with what you already have in your life and making the challenges you have not seem so bad.
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