This week I am continuing our 9 week Blue Zones Series. For 9 weeks we are covering the 9 different patterns that help centenarians live and thrive longer.
If you missed last week's blog on the Power Of Slow: Spirituality, go check it out!
>>Read It Here<<
Something that we see in every Blue Zone (as well as is a common theme with most long-lived people) is this close and connected group of people.
As human beings, we are an innately social species (even those of us introverts still require sociability). Connection, belonging, and love are considered a basic human need according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.
In Okinawa, their social support system is called their Moai. A moai is similar to a core set of best friends who stay for life. You can rely on them in times of need and they rely on you in their times of need. As in all relationships, it's a give-and-receive relationship.
Which I know a lot of people have a difficult time with. They don't want to come across as greedy, selfish, or using their friends but in friendship give-and-receive is natural. You should be able to rely on friends just like they should be able to rely on you.
Have you heard the idea that who you are is a combination of the 5 people you spend the most time with? Did you think it was a hoax when you heard it?
Well, apparently it's not!
The people you spend the most time with have a huge influence not just on your mind but on other parts of your health as well. It's common to find people that already fit your values and the ideas you have about the world. As you get older you may notice you have fewer friends than you did as a child.
When we are kids everyone is our friend, as adolescents, our "popularity" depends on having lots of friends and this can carry into early adulthood but as we progress from there we start to form our own values and beliefs and slowly people drop off. Some friends will stay forever but you may find you go through a pruning stage.
You shed some and then attract others who are more in alignment with who you are and what you believe. These are the people that will be in your moai.
But what does this have to do with your health?
Let's start right from the most basic and fundamental purpose. I've talked before about Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs before and this one is right in the middle.
Connection, belonging, and love comes directly after our physiological needs (eating, drinking, etc.) and our safety needs. I don't think this is a coincidence that it comes right after. Right after our physiological needs and our sense of safety is met the next thing we need is love and support.
We are a social species, even the introverts. We rely on others to progress through life. As babies, we need our parents, as children and adolescents we need our friends and our teachers, as adults, we need partners, bosses, landlords, grocery store clerks, gas station attendees, the list goes on and on.
But at the heart of it, we all need the connection, belonging, and love that comes from those supportive friendships and relationships.
One of the major causes of depression and other mental health issues is social isolation and loneliness. There is a large body of research that demonstrates that social isolation actually "significantly increases the risk of premature mortality," according to the American Psychological Association.
Their study showed that "the magnitude of risk presented by social isolation is very similar in magnitude to that of obesity, smoking, lack of access to care and physical inactivity." That's huge.
So to combat this, the answer is to find a supportive friend or group of friends who share similar values and beliefs to you. You want your friends to have a positive influence on you, to support your life goals and habits, and get along with you (the key to keeping them for life). In my experience, friends can often pull you out of that dark place you don't think you can come back from.
I kid you not! There is a lot of research on this.
The American Psychological Association study says that social isolation can contribute to "poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life" as well as, "increases the risk of premature death from every cause for every race."
It's no wonder people in the Blue Zones are living longer. They all demonstrate some form of a Moai and have low rates of Dementia, Alzheimer's, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
A good supportive friend or group of friends can give you a great reason to jump out of bed and get moving.
Your friends can encourage you when you are looking for a change in life, they can lift you up when you need an extra little push, they can be your built-in cheerleaders.
When you're feeling bored, a little down about yourself, confused, stressed, etc. a text or call from a good friend saying "hey, are you busy? Do you want to hang?" can really change your whole mood around.
We tend to soak in the energy of those around us (just like we also give off energy). You know when you're around someone who's just complaining and super negative? When you walk away do you feel joyful with a full cup? Probably not. When you meet up with your friend and they're happy, and positive (genuinely positive), you leave feeling really good.
Now, this is a big one. Trying to work through big traumas such as divorce, a death, a car accident, etc. on your own is extremely difficult. These kinds of events can leave you feeling extremely isolated, alone, and lead to mental health and physical health issues.
If you don't have a supportive friend or group of friends (or sometimes even if you do) it can feel like no one understands what you're going through, you're the only one that feels the way you do.
If you have a Moai it's a commitment for life. They are your people and you know they'll show up on your doorstep with a bottle of wine (or box of beer) ready to talk smack about your partner that left you or simply provide a shoulder to cry on when your mom passes away. It's not the same to try to cry on your own shoulder.
Almost everyone can admit that having good supportive friends are great and that having no friends is really hard. But it's amazing that it goes so much deeper than that.
Friends can help your mental health, your physical health, your sense of purpose and motivation, they can boost your happiness, your confidence, your self-esteem, they can help you get through tough times. The right friends, that is. Just like you in turn can help them too.
I challenge you to take a moment and consider the types of people you have in your life. Are they loving, supportive, positive? Do they boost you up, do they go out of their way to spend time with you, are they there for you in times of need? Or are they always negative, drain your energy, leave you feeling bad about yourself, and don't make the effort in your relationship?
Think about this.
Do you love this content and want to hear more from me? Join my weekly newsletter! I chat all about things business, health, sustainability, wellness, launches, etc.