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How Good Social Relationships Can Save Your Life

Help others around you in a spirit of love, understanding, and unity.

Why does almost every study say that married people live longer, isolated people die faster, and people with competitive, Type A personalities are more likely to get sick?

That’s a good question for those of us who have been running after success, achievement, and accomplishments for years and years, sometimes at the expense of family life and personal relationships. So all we have to do to live our best life is make new friends? Is that what these studies are trying to say?

That’s exactly what they say, when you get down to the essence. I was particularly struck by a Social Relationships and Health study published in Science. It states that social relationships “may regulate or control human thought, feeling and behavior in ways that promote health . . . either by fostering a sense of meaning or coherence or by facilitating health-promoting behaviors.” So, if I get closer to the people I work with, better habits will follow, along with a potentially longer, better life?

That works for me. It also lines up with the message in my books and seminars, when I call on people to look for meaning and coherence through relationships with others. Boiled down to a simple principle, my Greater Than Yourself philosophy of mentoring means to help others around you in a spirit of love, understanding, and unity.

1.Look for the bright lights in your environment.

If these studies are to be believed, you ought to hang around with people who make you smile. Seek out those with positive personal habits like appreciation of good food, exercise, and smiling regularly, and some of that positive energy will come back to you.

2. Be the bright light for somebody else.

You can also be the positive energy for someone else. Start with people whose personal aspirations speak to you, but go beyond them to people who might be a harder sell, even if doing so doesn’t feel natural at first. Look past differences between you and see the qualities—heart, energy, optimism, drive, whatever it may be for that person—that could help bring you together.

Then you can go on to the ultimate goal of Greater Than Yourself: you replicate yourself, by bringing the people around you to new heights of achievement and satisfaction, and they will in turn go on to replicate your efforts with other people.

 3. Make social connection a permanent habit.

Now, align yourself with those other people. Be someone they can approach, have lunch with, call at 3 a.m. when their car breaks down. Because, as a recent New York Times story noted, even people with less than perfect health habits, if they’re interconnected with other people’s lives, have a better chance of living to a ripe old age than people who are socially disconnected. You’re doing a good thing for other people by reaching out and mentoring, but how about this? You’re doing an even better thing for yourself.

I guess that draws me to the inevitable sappy (but fun to make) conclusion: People who need people really are the luckiest people in the world. 

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