The One Means By Which to Live a Phenomenal Life, Which Most People No Longer Do.
Hint: we used to do this. Nowadays though, we are all “too busy.”
Got any guesses?
A quick and powerful way in which to show another person that you value them, that they are important to you, that the relationship you share is something you want to maintain, and that you care for them?
Give them some of your time.
This used to be a given understanding of relationships, whether familial, romantic, or friendship.
People spent time together. They had dinner parties, they met up on weekends, they had dates face-to-face (instead of volleying texts back and forth for weeks before they’ve even met to see if there is chemistry in the first place). People picked up the phone and actually spoke.
Friends understood the nature of going out of their way a bit for the friendship. Making the trek to go see their friend, or springing for a dinner in order to spend time with that person, or taking the time to handwrite a card when that person is experiencing something difficult or attending their birthday party.
Now, we are often “too busy” and will just text our friend a “thinking of you, hope you’re doing well” in place of human interaction and real-world time and effort put in.
Nowadays, a friend will ask to meet up, and when it comes to requiring them going somewhat out of their way, many will then backtrack and say things like “aw, darn, I wish we could’ve made it work. Maybe next time.”
The glaring obvious here: they could have. They just chose not to.
Family typically sat down and had dinner together, all while they actually spoke to and looked at one another as they ate, interacting with each other. They met up for holiday gatherings and other celebrations, and again, actually interacted with each other.
They reached out to one another when one was in need. One person might drive to go help a family member move, or, they might head to their house to help out a bit if that person cannot get around so well at the moment.
Now, everyone is busy, busy, busy. With work, with their cell phones, two of the main ones.
Nowadays, what we forget is that all of this is a choice. Granted, it is also cultural values bearing down hard on us as well. Though we also choose, every single day, our activities, behaviors, and priorities.
Romantic relationships meant in-person dating. Now, we grossly misuse dating apps (what have become, apparently, the only means by which people date today).
We text, and text, and text, for weeks, before even meeting the person. Which is flawed because you cannot know if you will hit it off with someone until you have met. You need to see them in action and in the flesh. Observe their body language, how they treat you and others, their ability to listen, the chemistry between you (or not).
This is also part of the fun. That butterfly inducing, climactic unknown of going on the first date.
Now, we run the other way, claiming it’s “too stressful.”
We prefer the safety of that buffer of screens to the unknown, excitement, and yes, the anxiety of the richness of real-life interaction.
Nowadays though, we are missing out on so much of the fun and vividness of what dating used to involve. Instead, we swipe through pictures, deciding in a millisecond based on an image of whether someone might be a good partner for us or not, and because of this, we are struggling significantly in dating, our understanding of how relationships happen, and love.
The mantra of people today has become “I am so busy.”
I hear it all the time. Constantly.
From my friends, family members, acquaintances, you name it. Even strangers.
“Oh my gosh, I am just so busy, wow. Things are so stressful right now.”
Apparently, everyone’s life is a madhouse, is overflowing with stress and to-dos, and based on their tone, most people seem to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and are struggling amidst being crushed by it all.
How can it be, that this is the experience of most people?
Is it possible that instead, we do not understand the nature of prioritizing?
Might we have lost sight of some of what is truly, deeply important to big picture life happiness and fulfillment, amidst all our hamster wheel running to do everything else?
Could it be that we are taking on too much? Allowing unhealthy and faulty cultural values our society has come to adapt, rule our lives?
What if we are making the wrong choice(s)?
Living our lives in a hurried frenzy, putting out fires left and right, feeling perpetually buried by work and other “must-dos”- many of which feel obligatory and do not really bring us much joy or fulfillment, and we are choosing wrong and prioritizing wrong?
What if much of what we are focusing on, and dubbing as the topmost priority, is in actuality, over the larger picture, much less important than the things which we are (intentionally or not) shoving to the side in their wake?
Because (and most of you know this by now) what makes us most happy, both in the immediate and over the long term?
Quality relationships. That is it.
And guess what, folks? You cannot possibly create or maintain quality connections if you are ever “too busy.”
Too busy to truly listen, too busy to respond to the email or text, too busy to make the trek, too busy to focus and take the time.
Both, the quality people in your life will get sick of it and move on to people who do have the time, and, because quality relationships cannot be created in little snippets of time here and there. They need more investment, time, effort, and commitment than that.
Robert Waldinger, the director of a 75-year study on adult development, speaks of this in his TED talk. How the goal of many people is “to be rich”, and how many of us pour ourselves into work, work, work, much to our later detriment.
He is the director of this study which asked the question: what really makes people happy and healthy? It was a study which tracked the lives of over 700 men, over the course of 75 years, following closely how their lives turned out over the big picture. Almost no study has gone to such depth and detail.
The study began when the men were boys, in their teens. The boys were interviewed, given medical exams, their homes were visited by the study directors, and their friends and parents were spoken to.
And over the years, they were checked in on regularly with similar depth. Questions were asked about these men’s lives. Are they married? Are they happy? How has their career gone? What is their relationship to alcohol or other drugs? Do they have close friends? You get the idea. And, the study team didn’t just send questionnaires. The men’s brains were scanned, their homes were visited, medical records were accessed, and even their wives, children, and friends were spoken to.
So, who were the men in the study who ended up incredibly happy and healthy over the big picture?
What are the lessons that came from these tens of thousands of pages, of what makes a happy life?
The clearest message from this 75-year study is this: emotionally healthy and close relationships are what makes us happiest.
People who are closely connected with friends and loved ones are healthier, happier, and more successful in their lives than people who are lonely and less connected.
Important caveat here: quality matters. If a person considers themselves “well connected” to their family, though their family is toxic and cruel, this does not count, and in fact, makes you less healthy and less happy.
It is not about the number of friends you have, nor is it about just “having someone around.” For example, high conflict marriages are worse for our health than being single. Or, having fair-weather friends does not offer the same benefit as one wonderful friendship does.
Thus, quality over quantity is crucial.
The people who are the most satisfied with their relationships at age 50 are the healthiest by age 80.
And, the big takeaway here, the choices we are making today do not often align with this lesson and value.
Too often, we cannot be bothered. We are “just too busy,” so we opt-out. We do not make the trek, or take the time, or put in the effort, to nourish a quality connection with someone we deeply like or care for. And we lose out, big time.
You cannot possibly create and nurture high quality, healthy, emotionally close connections with others if you are ever “too busy.” Consider this the next time you go to opt out because something requires a bit more effort from your end, though on considering it carefully, you realize this is actually a person you quite like, value, and wish to potentially have a close relationship with. Mull this over the next time you go to say, “sorry, I am too busy.”