Relationships are a Magic Potion
By Dr. Amy (Amarilis) Iscold, MS, MD
Lecturer, Dept. of Psychology & Child Development
Lecturer, Dept of Public Health and Kinesiology
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
If there were a magic potion guaranteed to give us long, happy, and healthy lives, it’s likely that those who learned to concoct it would be celebrated. Here I am picturing a little cottage at the edge of the woods with herbs and flowers growing in a half wild, half tended garden. Maybe a fence and a gate that never quite closed because the healer who lived there was the welcoming sort. Alas, there’s no village healer dispensing magic, so we seek other ways of seeking happy and healthy lives. Advice is plentiful and some of the trends shift and change with the times. We’re bombarded with notions of what and how much we should eat and drink (or not, as the case may be), how much physical activity is needed to maintain healthy hearts and muscles, how to purify air, strengthen bones, and stimulate our memories.
While much of that advice is worthwhile and has its place, when I was asked to write a little something about health promotion and prevention, I defaulted to the closest thing to a “magic potion” we have in our reality: connection.
Relationships are key to happiness and health.
Maybe that sounds too fanciful, but there’s science to back it up. The longest scientific study on well-being and health (the Harvard Study of Adult Development) has been going strong for over 80 years. They ask questions, accumulate data from questionnaires, measure everything you can imagine in blood and urine samples, investigate medical files and imaging results, talk to spouses and offspring, scrutinize background, diet, work, habits, and hobbies … from late teens to the end of life. What’s their overall conclusion, you ask? The greatest predictor for health and happiness lies in a person’s relationships.
So what does that mean for us? If we were to walk through the gate of that whimsical cottage and ask the village healer for the elixir to health and happiness, we’d be reminded of the magic in connections. Relationships are multifaceted and there’s no one type of relationship that is “magical”. They can be found in a partnership or a marriage, a family, friendships, or community. You don’t need a huge number of people and the benefits of connection aren’t tied to festive gatherings or numerous connections. Caring, thoughtfulness, being seen and heard, and having a sense of belonging are all we need and those can be met in relationships that take on many forms. This year, perhaps more than ever before in our lifetimes, finding ways to remain close to others has been challenging. However, given the importance of relationships to our health and our well-being, we should all strive to cherish those we love and reach out to others to share the magic.