Our lives, over the past twenty-five years or so, have become increasingly hectic, almost frenetic. The demands of home, work and even such simple things as commuting have grown, eating away at more and more of our time until we have less of ourselves to give.
So we adapt. We spend less time with old (and new) friends. Instead of meeting in person, we connect on Facebook and Snapchat and Instagram. We use social media to maintain our relationships, staring at a screen rather than another human face.
We tend to forget that we’re social creatures who need real human interaction. We think that this electronic substitute will serve the same purpose, or near enough. And it does to a degree. But it’s not the same as visiting a friend in person, putting down the cell phone and just catching up on each other’s lives.
It can be hard because as much as one of you wants to stay engaged, the other might not feel so strongly inclined. Or the logistics of getting together impede your efforts, as family and work and other obstacles emerge.
We think there will always be another opportunity sometime down the road, perhaps when the kids have gone off to college or when chaos at the job settles down, even though new obstacles tend to enter the scene. So we have to work hard to make the relationships work, and we eventually come to feel that they may not be worth the effort.
But I suspect that when you do finally make the time and the effort, after you’ve connected or reconnected and caught up with your friends’ lives and given an account of yours, as you’re heading home, you feel pretty good, almost euphoric at the bond you have strengthened.
The benefits of good social networks are well established, so I won’t go into them in detail, but I will say that science shows friendships improve your chances of living both a longer life and a healthier one. Your mind is likely to stay sharper if you engage with friends, particularly those who don’t always agree with you. Back and forth respectful dialogue keeps you thinking, building brain plasticity.
And you can’t help but have more positive thoughts and emotions if you engage with friends. That positivity can assist in warding off high blood pressure, digestion difficulties and immune system responses. Of course, you can get that same beneficial effect by walking through a forest, but you may not always have easy access to a grove of trees.
A few years ago, an older guy from my gym approached me in the locker room and suggested we have lunch or meet for a drink after work sometime. Although my first inclination was to decline, I nevertheless agreed. And I’m glad I did.
He and I are very different in some ways, very similar in others. He’s very religious. I’m not. But he’s also curious about the world, as am I. We both seek answers to questions we’re not even sure we’ve framed properly.
We talk about the absurdities of the human condition. We talk about our government. We talk about riding bicycles and discourse on the existence of God. We give each other grief without ever crossing the line into meanness. And even though we’ll never be best friends, we’ll always like each other. And we’ll go on connecting for as long as we can.
So catch up with an old friend or make a new one. Reach out and engage with others. You’ll find that it not only benefits you, it benefits your friends, and their friends, and ultimately the whole world.
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