Anecdotal evidence points to the fact that social relationships, both close and casual everyday encounters are important to health and longevity. A recent 7,000 person study over a nine year period showed that men who had the fewest social ties had 2.3 times the mortality rate than those that had the most social ties. Among women, the number is 2.8. That is incredible.
Casual everyday encounters are when you chat with the grocery store checker and bagger for 2 minutes about making soup or how cold the weather is getting. If you don’t do this, it may be because it doesn’t feel natural to you. You will get better at it and it will feel more natural as you do it more. You can start very small.
Have a few canned small talk starters ready:
· Has it been busy today?
· Wow, it is cold outside!
· I’ve never made soup from scratch before. Hope this goes well.
But try to be you. If this is too much, just say hello. Some of the more outgoing people you encounter will take it from there.
Close relationships can take more work. One of my favorite writers, Matthew Kelley, says that you will start to emulate the five people that you spend the most time with. Do the people you spend time with make you a better person? Are you making the people you spend time with better? If some of the people you spend time with are not supporting you, making you feel better and making you a better person, maybe it is time to start spending less time with them.
What can you do to support others, make them feel better and make them better for being around you? I think being able to listen well is number one. This is not easy, but you can improve with practice. When someone is talking, really listen instead of thinking about what you are going to say in response. Leave a few seconds at the end of their sentences before you respond. They may have more thoughts. Ask some follow-up questions to what they said. It is alright if occasionally the other person needs to talk more than you because they have something on their mind they need to unload. Sometimes it may go the other way. Practice empathy and forget about needing to be correct. You can be correct or you can have a friend. It is important to listen to our friends when they are going through a difficult time, but also important to celebrate with them when they accomplish something or something good happens to them. Don’t let envy creep in. If they are truly your friend, you will be happy for them.