Hope you're well. As a habit, I start most emails with "Hope you're well." Of course I mean it, but I I also find it awkward to get down to business without checking in first. Most glaze over the statement, acknowledging that I acknowledged them. Yet, almost none actually let me know if they are indeed well. What if you were to reply? How would you gauge if you're well or not?
For decades, wellness has been defined in terms of physical fitness. With blood work, weight, and an inventory of aches and pain, people assign their health somewhere on the spectrum of well-to-sick. Presidential fitness tests in grade school attempted to label us early on. Despite having a normal BMI as a kid, my inability to climb a rope made me presidentially unfit.
More recently, the discussion of mental fitness has also come into play, especially in politics. Declaring a candidate's lack of "mental fitness" is now a politically correct way to say, "so-and-so is truly presidentially unfit."
Even more recently, social fitness has grabbed wellness attention as results of the longest happiness study have been published. In "The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness," co-authors Dr. Robert Waldinger and Dr. Marc Schultz conclude that the lack of social connections can actually make us sick.
As a bonafide introvert, I wondered then that despite all I do for my health, if my proclivity for alone time would ultimately be my demise.
To find out, I participated in a happiness challenge that happened to land in my inbox. An email that made me truly hope I was well. This was a 7-day challenge done by Jancee Dun of the New York Times in partnership with Dr. Waldinger. It was designed to help participants exercise their social muscle and create a social fitness plan for the new year. Here's how it went for me...
Day One. A quiz. Am I socially healthy or not? I breathed a sigh of relief that my results declared... "You have the outline of a healthy social network." With recent family obligations giving me permission to sink even deeper into my own space, I was relieved to know I hadn't shriveled up yet.
Day Two presented the 8-minute phone call challenge. I needed to ask a friend I haven't spoken to in a while for an 8-minute call. An overachiever, I reached out to two friends... my college roommate and a dear friend I made through work. While both calls lasted 58 minutes, hearing their voices put a spring in my step that lasted for days. One of my 8-minute friends referred to us as "social introverts" - people who love time with their friends, but alone time more. I think in our noisy world, we're becoming more common these days.
Day Three challenged me to make small talk with a stranger. Known as "weak ties," these seemingly benign interactions can make meaningful impressions. I chose to talk up a PA at a doctor's office. In our 4-minute conversation, she revealed that two of her kids are exploring their gender identity. It was a profound exchange of vulnerability from mom-to-mom that has stayed with me ever since. Had I missed this connection, I would have missed this very human moment.
Day Four asked me to thank someone special. That was easy. It had just been my birthday. From cards to gifts to balloons and dinners, I thanked my husband for taking the time to do what he did. He's busy, and I would have understood if he skimped. He didn't. It meant a lot, and I told him so.
Day Five challenged me to get close to a colleague. I had just said yes to an invitation to join a women's small business networking group, so I counted that. We met for the first time last week and are kindred spirits. I know this group is a gem and am grateful to be included.
Day Six encouraged me to not cancel plans, as tempting as it often is. I upped the ante and made plans. Some pickle dates with family and friends plus a couple coffee dates and dinners to boot. Each connection a boost of energy better than any B12 injection could ever promise to deliver.
Day Seven suggested I write down my social goals. Instead, I created a memory of the feelings each social interaction stirred up and chose a word I could hold on to. "Sprightly" came to mind. I was buoyed up by my people. No blood workup needed to tell me how much these moments lifted my energy and made me feel well. Moving forward, I'll simply tap into this feeling to motivate a call when a text is tempting.
The point is not to busy yourself with social obligations (phew). In fact, the scientists differentiate between quantity verses quality, and note that the people who were most satisfied in their relationships at 50 were the healthiest at age 80. In the digital age, we can trick ourselves into thinking we are connecting via message or post. But, to be well, we must continue to nurture our relationships across all aspects of our lives, from the grocery clerk to childhood friends with real, meaningful human contact. Doctor's orders.
So what does this mean in the world of wellness? My prediction... "community" will be the wellness word for 2023. Like water, air, sun, and nutrients, community has been an essential element in the human experience since the beginning of time. Tossed about in years past, this is the year "community" will be prescribed – the year humans will be called to remember that how we live in community, or not, has real implications on whether or not we can truly be well.
In the spirit of creating meaningful connections, I invite you to join me in person for my third annual Wellness Retreat in the Hudson Valley. Reserve your cabin to soak up the essential elements our human roots crave. Think gentle river waves, clean air, heritage trees, stunning sunrises, locally grown food, and a community of like-minded, bold women looking for more.
Please reach out with any questions – or to tell me how you're doing!
With heartfelt intention....
P.S. Click here to read another startling fact about our social lives that this happiness study revealed.