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Better Together

Trees are truly magical beings. Living and working amongst the trees for decades, forester and author, Peter Wohlleben recently revealed scientific discoveries showing that the forest is a social network. Trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Trees live and prosper by drawing on the strength of their community, and there is so much we can learn from their wisdom.

While so many things in our world push us towards separation and isolation – work that moves us away from family, pandemic restrictions, technology, commuting, social media…the list goes on – studies show that human connections are vital to living a fulfilling and happy life.

“Shared roots live longer.”

- Mark Nepo

In the book The Good Life, authors Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz share the findings of an 80-year (and counting) national scientific study of happiness, following people over multiple generations. The most important insight from all of those lives lived? People who create and lean into meaningful connections with friends and family are healthier, happier, and live longer, more meaningful lives.

The importance of community feels very present for me right now. In Nova Scotia, where I live, we are experiencing the biggest forest fire in our history. I’ve lived here, along the ocean, for more than 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this – hurricanes, storm surge, blizzards, yes, but never fire that has encroached so close to where most people in the province live. Thousands of people have been evacuated and reports suggest hundreds have lost their homes. But in the face of all that, people are buoyed by the love, support, and generosity of this community. People and businesses are offering accommodation for displaced families, others are going above and beyond to rescue pets and farm animals, and so many are donating clothes and other essential items.

It's times like this that make you realize just how much we rely on each other to survive and thrive. But we can’t benefit from the wonderful gifts of community unless we make a significant investment in our relationships, not just in bad times, but throughout our lives.

Showing up

Of course, creating a supportive community starts with the people with whom we are closest – our immediate or chosen family, but through the busy-ness of life, how often do you ask yourself – am I making an effort to be in regular connection with my people? That could mean reaching out for a regular phone call or creating opportunities to get together. Showing up consistently is important. But, just as important, is howwe show up. It’s worth taking some time to reflect on the question: am I being intentional about how I show up in my relationships?

Opening up

The Good Life study results showed that deep, positive intimate connections give people a sense of balance and unity. While every relationship is unique, taking opportunities to share experiences and ideas, and be vulnerable with one another, is key. This requires a willingness to risk being hurt. But it’s these risks that help us create deeper connections with our partner. Opening up means we are allowing ourselves to really be known by another.

Facing up

Another essential ingredient of successful relationships is how we respond to the inevitable challenges of being in connection with other humans. When problems arise, do we turn toward one another to come to a resolution or do we turn away, ignoring the problem or the other person? When we have a knee-jerk reaction to a situation, we are relying on old patterns and strategies that may not serve us or the person we love. But when we take the time and space to reflect on how we want to respond to a situation, communicate in a healthy and loving way, and come together to collaborate on a workable solution, it has huge implications for the success of our relationship.

Leveling up

Our overall health and longevity are also impacted by our work community. It’s not so much what we do that matters, but how we do it – our attitude to our work is everything. And that is largely influenced by the connections and relationships we create at work. Establishing strong bonds with our coworkers is essential to our wellness. Even if you don’t love what you do, the research shows that connecting with some of your colleagues can have a positive effect on how you feel about yourself and your work. The rise of remote work and need to connect through technology makes this harder than ever, but making time for conversations beyond work chat is a great way to start. Reaching out to go for a coffee or hopping on a phone or zoom call with a colleague to simply get to know one another goes a long way to helping us feel connected and supported.

Waking up

One of the most gratifying insights from The Good Life study is the idea that it’s never too late to be happy. Every day is a new opportunity to create a connection – to smile at someone on the bus, chat with the cashier at the grocery store, call a sibling you haven’t connected with in a while. Reaching out to connect with another human can require the smallest of actions but have a huge impact in someone’s life, especially our own.

We’ve all heard the old adage, life is not a destination, but a journey. It’s all these small moments of connection along the way that create a good life. Sharing our love and attention with other people – acquaintances, lovers, friends, and family – is what gives life meaning, supports a life well lived and grounds us in knowing that we belong.

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