A Research Study and a (Rare) Birthday Reflection

Last week, following the release of a major study of 148 other studies, we learned that social relationships are just as important to health as other common risk factors like smoking, lack of exercise or obesity. The New York Times notes, “The researchers concluded that having few friends or weak social ties to the community is just as harmful to health as being an alcoholic or smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes a day. Weak social ties are more harmful than not exercising and twice as risky as being obese, the researchers found.” Yikes!

As I wind down my birthday today, I couldn’t agree more. Even in an off-year birthday (no 5 or 0), I feel incredibly fortunate to have immediate family, extended family and lifelong friends with whom to share this day (and the days leading up to the day).  I am especially blessed to spend this day with my healthy, 80-something parents – both of them!

Saturday, my husband and I spent long, lazy hours at the lakeside home of our very good friends from college. With no expectations beyond some wine, a medium-rare steak, and a fabulous sunset on Lake Michigan, we spent the warm afternoon and evening hours engaged in wonderful, rambling conversation. Who cared that we finished each other’s sentences and re-told stories for the twentieth time? The fire crackled in the moonlight as we listened intently to each other’s worries and fears – as if for the very first time. We heard about the imminent hip replacement surgery for one of them, and we talked emotionally about our last child leaving for college in a few weeks.  “Old friends, memory brushes the same years, silently sharing the same fears,” Simon and Garfunkel sang plaintively in 1968.

Sunday evening, my husband and I gathered with our four, young adult children – aged 18 to 25 – at a casual rooftop restaurant for a second alfresco birthday celebration. As the kids mature and move on with their own lives, our time together shrinks. We clinked glasses in solidarity and caught up with each other’s lives.  It is a feeling of contentment like no other – to share an evening with our children whom we love (and like!) so very much.  Wait – weren’t we just at Chuckie Cheese with these guys a few years ago?

My four best girlfriends treated me to pasta and and a mango martini (or two) at a local Italian restaurant last night. Too hot and humid for alfresco, we sat inside and toasted  . . . me . . . us . . . and our friendship of over 20 years.  As the years march on, I notice we talk less about our kids and more about ourselves and each other.  (Honestly, we  are a bit more interesting.) We peel back layers of insecurity with each passing year; we are less guarded with each other now and more thoughtful, less competitive and more connected. Salute!

Today, my actual birthday, I enjoyed a quiet, kind of fancy lunch with two of my favorite people – my Mom and Dad. How appropriate to share this day with the only two people responsible for it.  We talked politics, television, family stuff and more. Does it get any better than this, I think to myself?

I also fielded Facebook birthday wishes, funny e-cards, phone calls, text messages and emails from siblings, colleagues, and cousins. While the Brigham Young University study on aging and social interaction released last week provides some compelling clues for future exploration, I did some research of my own this birthday week and discovered similar results: everything – absolutely everything – is better together.  If our social connectivity truly plays a role in our longevity, as the study suggests, I discovered the proverbial fountain of youth these past few days.  Thanks, everyone, for an absolutely magical mid-life birthday!

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