The theme of loneliness isn't new. Countless songs, movies, and books have been written about it. (See: One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez, "Eleanor Rigby" by The Beatles, or "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" as examples. And who could forget Tom Hanks and his portrayal of a lonely castaway who tackled loneliness by forming a bond with his volleyball companion, Wilson.")
But what I've recently been learning more about is the idea that loneliness isn't just a sad emotion or isolated feeling; it also has serious consequences for our mental and physical well-being. In fact, loneliness has been estimated to shorten a person's lifespan by as many as 15 years, equivalent in impact to being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes per day or being obese.
That's the difference of living til 80 or dying at 65. That's a lot of life left on the proverbial table!
The idea of aging well has been on my mind since reading Outlive by Peter Attia and watching a new Netflix show "Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones." Both have highlighted how loneliness can affect us in various ways—from high blood pressure, weakened immune system, and a higher risk of heart problems and/or cancer. There's even evidence suggesting that feeling socially isolated can speed up our brain and body age and be a signal the early stages of Alzheimer's.
But here's the flipside. There are many communities and cultures around the world that emphasize social connections, support networks, and bonding and there's so much we could learn from them about longevity.
I learned about this tradition in "Live to 100" when the narrator visited Okinawa, Japan. Moai groups are made up of friends who share their lives. Sometimes it's to help each other financially but more often it's about having a close-knit squad of people to support you emotionally, share laughter, and keep you connected. What's remarkable is that studies have shown that these strong social connections in Okinawa contribute to the longevity and well-being of its people.
Overall idea to take: creating strong social connections, a sense of belonging, emotional support
What this might look like: a group of friends who have known each other for years. They meet regularly for dinner, go on vacations together, celebrate birthdays, and support each other through life's ups and downs. This close-knit group isn't just about socializing; it's their Moai, providing emotional support and a sense of belonging.
I heard this term when I read an article about a TV show whose characters are friends in real life and whose friendship has spanned 30 years. They referred to their relationship as a "familyship."
Familyship, as I learned, is a concept where friends or individuals come together to parent without romantic involvement. While not entirely new, this approach to co-parenting has gained popularity recently, particularly among the LGBTQ+ community and those seeking to become parents without traditional romantic partners.
While these actors aren't living in this concept of familyship—they don't coparent or live together—I loved the idea of having people in your life that form that kind of bond.
Living abroad fro 12 years has been amazing but has had its difficulties living away from family. You miss events and milestones, you don't have grandma to call over if you have to work late or want a date night with your partner. But we have made serious friends who we know we can count on if we need anything and I'd familyship with them any day! Then there's the familyship we share with my best friend of over 30 years. When we head back for New Jersey visits, it's safe to say that we come as close as possible to living together. The closeness exists between her and I but also between our kids, between her and my husband, between her parents and all of us. It's familyship for sure.
Overall idea to take: friends who become like family, shared values, connection.
What this might look like: families who are close/best friends. They consider themselves one big extended family. The kids from both families have grown up together, maybe they call each other "cousins." They celebrate holidays and/or birthdays together, share family vacations, and even take care of each other's children when needed. Lines between friends and family blur and the sense of togetherness is deeply cherished.
This German idea refers to a sense of community and close-knit relationships. In Gemeinschaft, people thrive on strong social bonds, shared values, and a sense of togetherness. People in these communities rely on each other and value spending time together in person. A sense of belonging is an integral component of overall well-being, contributing to a longer and more fulfilling life.
Overall idea to take: forming deep bonds with your community, close-knit connections, and a sense of togetherness.
What this might look like: a small, tight-knit neighborhood where neighbors know each other well, gather for block parties, help each other with household tasks, and watch out for one another's children. Social bonds are strong, and everyone values face-to-face interactions, contributing to a sense of togetherness and well-being.
Technically, we are more connected than ever before, yet as a whole, we are also more lonely. In a recent study, a staggering 47% of Americans—almost half!!!—often feel alone, left out, and/or lacking meaningful connection with others. This is true from teenagers to older adults so while living with friends or or packing up and moving next door to your bestie may not be an option, just recognizing that close relationships can enhance your quality of life and longevity is motivation to take action. How about:
- Eat out instead of ordering delivery in.
- Host regular gatherings like a potluck with neighbors.
- Reaching out with a phone call.
- Sending a text to a friend. (It's a small yet meaningful step you can take.)
- Plan adventures! (Organize group outings or adventures and create shared memories.)
- Engage in community activities such as sports leagues, clubs, or classes to meet new people who share your interests.
- Get involved in local charities or volunteer organizations.Travel and explore! (You never know where you might find your people).
- Make an effort to connect with others in person.