Since our marriage 54 years ago, my husband and I have sent out a card and letter to friends and relatives each Christmas. I have read that it is rare to watch entire lives unfold through time; but over the years, our notebook of those missives has grown thick, providing a treasure of stories about our life together. In the beginning we often reported month-by-month the activities in our, and our children’s lives. As we received similar letters from friends and loved ones, we discovered that we desired a more nuanced (read interesting) approach. Consequently, we began sharing only the major highlights of our year and then adding our thoughts about various current topics in the news, movies we had seen, books we were reading. Sometimes we wrote a theme-based letter—the effects of moving, life changes when children arrive, becoming empty nesters, freeing ourselves through retirement.
This year our letter was about our current status in the process of aging. Our audience of mainly contemporary friends is contemplating the same, we know. We shared our diagnosed “conditions;” the fact that the list of our doctors, with whom we regularly personally interact, fills more than an 8 1/2 X 11 page; and our slower pace of life, preferring to complete only one major activity a day in addition to our daily walk. However, we emphasized our gratitude for the people to whom we sent our greeting, for living in a secure place where our greater physical needs are easily met, and where our sense of community provides emotional and psychological support as well as deep friendships.
As usual, friends have telephoned, written, and emailed their reactions to our letter. These are friends we have known since college and in both our early and later career days. Maintaining these, and newer, friendships have provided us with relationships we cherish, and regular interactions that keep us connected. We often invite friends—and always family—to our Michigan cottage, where we retreat for the summer months, sharing memories, eating well, and relishing being with one another through occasional outings and meaningful conversations.
I recently read an article, “The Real Secret of Lifelong Fulfillment,” by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, the director and associate director of the Harvard University Study of Adult Development. The essay was adapted from their book The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness. They write that the “one crucial factor” that “stands out for the consistency and power of its ties to physical health, mental health and longevity” is good relationships. The Harvard study findings are supported by similar findings across a variety of studies, the authors say.
Here are some statistics to give you context for the importance of human interaction: Waldinger and Schulz ask us to think of a friend we cherish whom we don’t see as often as we would like. They say that if you are 40 and you see them once a week for an hour of conversation, that is equivalent to 87 days together before you turn 80. It’s about 20 days if you see them once a month, 2 days if you see them once a year. Maybe this sounds like plenty of time to spend with good friends. But to encourage us to make encounters more frequent, they point out how much time the average American spends interacting solo with media, from television to radio to smartphones. In 2018, it was 11 hours each day. That means that “from the age of 40 to the age of 80,” media time would add “up to 18 years of waking life. For someone who is 18, that’s 28 years of life before they turn 80.” Over and over again, when the Harvard study participants reach their 70’s and 80’s, they say the thing they value most in life are their relationships with family and friends. The authors’ conclusion: “If we accept the wisdom—and more recently the scientific evidence—that our relationships are among our most valuable tools for sustaining health and happiness, then choosing to invest time and energy in them becomes vitally important . . . an investment that will affect everything about how we live in the future.”
As we begin to pursue the greater freedom of being in community together at UU Asheville, following the Pandemic, it is helpful to consider the importance of investing in relationships. Through interactions at Sunday service, at the Wednesday Thing, and at Coffee Hour in Sandburg Hall, we can re-engage with friends and acquaintances so important to the life of our congregation. In addition, we can select from the many choices offered through New Volunteer Opportunities in the UU Asheville survey on our website. All of these endeavors not only enrich our congregation but also provide us with good relationships.
Julie Stoffels, Clerk, Board of Trustees