If you had to guess the greatest health issue facing men today what would you say? Cancer? Heart disease? Maybe obesity or diabetes? Dr. Vivek Murthy thinks it is something else. Vivek, the US Surgeon General, says it is isolation.
Not what you guessed? Me either.
I recently read two articles on this topic. Although independent of one another, they are entirely related — one presenting the problem, the other the solution. First, the problem.
Billy Baker, journalist for the Boston Globe, was asked to do a piece on men and isolation. In this fascinating article Baker examines the risks of isolation, particularly in men between middle-age and retirement. His research highlights the many negative impacts from loneliness, including increased risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death. The article blew up, with feedback coming in from men all over the world affirming Baker’s own story and findings.
The ingredients leading to isolation are all present in today’s culture — increasing work demands as career grows, the spirit of independence, fear of being perceived as weak or needing help, the responsibilities of being a husband and/or father. Even technology conspires against us here. The ability to “connect” with almost anyone, anytime can create a perception real connection where none exists.
Brené Brown writes “We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” Increased health risk certainly falls into the category of suffering. So too does the effects of not living in harmony with the way God designed us to live — in community with others.
So, if this premise is true — men without meaningful relationships and connections will experience greater risk of physical and emotional maladies — then there should be evidence to support the benefits of meaningful relationships.
Now the second article. In a 75-year study out of Harvard, researchers tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two populations of males. Robert Waldinger, director of Harvard’s Study of Adult Development, summarized the key finding of their research this way, “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
I am not an expert on research and scientific studies, but one thing I’ve learned is their conclusions are seldom as cut and dry, or as simple, as this Harvard study. To be sure, there are other data in this study. Yet their findings rings true in my own experience and belief.
- My spiritual belief says we’re made in the image of a relational God.
- My experience reinforces the significance of intimate friendships and belonging.
- Now experts are documenting the physical and emotional benefits of being in connection with each other.
All these are pointing in the same direction — meaningful relationships matter. Regardless of your persuasions or experiences, I suspect this feels right to you as well.
So now comes the central question: are you living a connected life?
If so, you already know the benefits. Now you have some research to back it up.
If you don’t have meaningful connections, it is time to start.
Make it a priority. You must start here. If it isn’t a priority it won’t get done. Remembering why it matters will help you stay motivated.
Be intentional about connecting. Good friendships take time and intention. Revisit old friendships that you let fade. Be willing to pursue new ones. And invest in those connections where there is reciprocation.
Do something together. As Baker’s article points out, men prefer doing things together. Create opportunities (like the Wednesday idea in his article), schedule time, take the initiative. The how or what are of less importance than being together.
I am convinced Brené Brown right — we are wired for connection. So take a risk. Put yourself out there and experience the benefits of connection. If you want to walk the path to a more complete and fulfilling life, that road leads through meaningful relationships.