Successful Aging: The value, and health benefits, of maintaining a friendship circle
Q Several of my women friends recently got together for brunch and talked about how fortunate we are to have one another as good friends for so many years. We all are in our mid-70s and started thinking about the number of our friends who moved or passed away. It occurred to us: Will we still be best friends when we are 80 or 90? Do you have any thoughts about keeping friends and if necessary, making new ones?
A Dear L.S.:
Kudos to you for thinking about this subject before reaching your ninth decade.
Having friends is healthy. We know those who have friends live happier, healthier and longer lives. Friendships decrease blood pressure and stress, reduce the risk of depression and increase longevity.
Those without friends who are socially isolated do face health risks. That risk has been equated to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Friendships often don’t last forever; they change with life transitions such as graduation from high school, leaving college, moving, changing jobs and retirement. And with age, adults tend to interact with fewer people, often becoming closer to existing friends.
To sustain friendships over time, consider deepening existing relationships. Here are a few tips to help make that happen:
Having meaningful conversations: Talk about what’s important in life, changes that you’ve gone through, your aspirations and dreams for the next chapter of life.
Share an activity that is not electronic and is text-free: That might be walking or hiking or a trip to a museum.
Play together: Have fun playing a sport, board game, cards and just having a good time. Have a good laugh together.
Do something nice for the other person: Doing a favor for the other person can make you feel closer to him or her.
Share unique experiences: Select something that was special, such as the first child going to kindergarten, the first trip out of the country or a great meal or a fabulous concert.
Be an attentive listener: Remember important things about the person. Forgetting can indicate that you don’t care.
Be authentic: That might mean that you are willing to take a risk. Sharing feelings of happiness, sadness, excitement or even anger may bring you closer.
Making new friends is another story.
Woody Allen is quoted as saying, “80 percent of success is just showing up.” That means we have to “be there” and attend events related to our interests and curiosities such as dinner invitations, reunions, birthday parties and walking groups.
If possible, don’t refuse invitations, even if the invitation is not one of your favorite things to do. Interest groups are plentiful such as book groups, groups for theater, hiking, memoir writing, dining and more. Here are a few more:
Consider taking a class at a local college or university: Many allow older adults to attend classes tuition-free.
Invite someone for dinner at your home or go out for dinner: This person might be a neighbor, someone with whom you volunteer or someone from your religious institution.
Participate in a fitness program: Take a class. Then make sure to attend the class weekly if not more.
If you have a dog, take the dog for a walk: Dog owners love to stop and chat.
Consult your local adult education programs and hospitals for programs that will be useful both physically and intellectually and will provide opportunities for social connections.
IT CAN TAKE A VILLAGE
One last recommendation: Check if there is a Village in your community.
A Village is a national grass-roots nonprofit membership organization for those who want to age in place. That means aging in one’s own residence, staying connected to community and to one another. Members are volunteers who provide services to other members such as transportation, friendly visits, home tasks, tech support and more.
They also are recipients of services as needed. Many Villages have rich social and culture programs and activities that create opportunities for friendships.
To find one in your area, see the village to village network at http://www.vtvnetwork.org. Examples: South Bay Village (www.sbvill.org), Palos Verdes Peninsula Village (www.peninsulavillage.net), Pasadena Village (www.pasadenavillage.org) and Westside Pacific Village (thewpv.clubexpress.com). Phone numbers are on the web sites.
Thank you, L.S., for your important question. Enjoy your friends, keep them and be open to making new ones.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.” I agree.
Send emails to Helen Dennis at email@example.com, or go to www.facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity.