In a 72 year (seriously…72 years) study, Harvard University researchers have been looking for answers to what makes for a happy life. An article in The Atlantic reported on the results. Subjects were interviewed at various points in their lives examining stressful events, lifestyles and so on.
What they found was somewhat predictable. Exercise is good for you. Smoking is bad for you. But other things researchers thought would have dramatic and significant impact on quality of life did not play out. You could have cholesterol in your fifties, stressful life events in your childhood, but if and when you hit 70 or so it all levels out and you have just as good a shot at living well as everyone else. What’s the key for a happy life? Relationships! Those with strong social links to others, spouses and friends in particular, had long, happy lives.
At Action Pact we have long stressed the importance of relationship-based care. This research affirms what most of us have felt for years: to live life well, we need healthy relationships with those around us. All we need to do is go make some friends or reconnect with old ones, or even just spend more time doing things with people that you like. Simple right?
Well….for some it is easy (and frankly those are the folks that already have an abundance of good relationships), and for others not so much. We all know people that seem to lack the skills or confidence or even the desire to put themselves out there and try to make friends. And what about people that find themselves disconnected from others? Do you know any nursing home residents that might feel socially isolated? That feel alone because all their friends and family are gone? What can we do to help these folks develop and maintain these vital social relationships?
I am open to ideas here, but it seems to me that we start by creating an atmosphere for these folks that is ripe with opportunity for relationships to develop. Consistent staffing is a start. Learning circles and community circles to reaffirm people’s identities help too. Through these discussions and chats we find out what makes each of us tick. If we pay close attention, we can find people that have similar interests and backgrounds and can create opportunities for people to come together and enjoy themselves, all the while building relationships.
Often we need to move away from the standard large group activities to help create relationships. Focus on a few residents coming together for a weekly card game, a few old farmers gathering for morning coffee and conversation, ladies visiting the beauty shop for some good gossip (these are often the same exchanges of info the men have over coffee). The possibilities are endless when you explore the interests and talents of those around you. Smaller is often better when we look to develop true relationships.
What could you do to help foster relationship development in your community? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.
Glenn Blacklock has a Master of Arts in Leisure Studies with emphasis in Therapeutic Recreation. As Administrator of Big Meadows Nursing Home he led the organization through their culture change journey. Glenn is the creator of the Action Pact workshop Unlock the Life Within and has guided nursing homes across the country through their transformation to households.