The Harvard Study of Adult [Male] Happiness reached the pretty clear conclusion that the men who are healthiest and most joyous in later years are the men who took the time to invest in relationships.
I read that finding and had two reactions. First: Ya think? Every spiritual tradition of more than a nanosecond’s duration focuses on “Love One Another.” Not on “Die With the Most Toys” or “Bill 3000 Hours a Year.” Of course relationships matter. You needed eighty years of data to reach that conclusion?
But–as I usually do–I also had a conflicting reaction. “Yes, men who have a lot of healthy relationships are going to do better in old age, but does that mean the same finding holds true for women?” Because a lot of the older ladies I know are busy, busy, busy later in life, still tending to grand kids, siblings, spouses, or coworkers. These women, into their sixties and seventies and beyond, are silently wondering, “Will I ever get a break from all the relationship demands?”
Harvard has graciously begun to interview the spouses and female offspring of their original study participants, but I’m not holding my breath for eighty years while Harvard plays catch-up.
I did though, come across some useful insights reading Daniel Pink’s When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. He mentions the concept of pruning, which is also part of healthy aging. When our own candles grow shorter, we cut loose the people, groups, and tasks that take more than they give. We respect our limitations and put a greater priority on using our energy for who and what matters to us, and for ourselves.
That resonates with me, and has become almost a silver lining to the COVID19 virus. Travel got pruned right out of my life, which saved me a bunch of money and writing disruption. I like my dumpy little house (mostly), and was leaving it for weeks at a time because I figured I will soon be old and frail and broke, and “Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may…” I’m really glad I traveled as much as I did, but a little pruning of those ambitions has been good too.
I’ve also pruned my carbon footprint. No road trips, no weekend retreats and workshops. No conferences except the virtual kind. I’m OK with that too. If we do ever get to something approximating a pre-virus normal, I will choose my reasons for venturing forth more carefully and say no more.
The pruning has resulted in more vigorous growth in other places. I’m reading more, I’m doing less wash, I’m writing at a pace that keeps the whole book in my head and taking break when the story is done, instead of having to stop and start and fiddle around trying to recall what bright idea was going to save the day.
Has your year seen any useful pruning? Any lessons learned or COVID-induced experiments that bore fruit? I’ll add the names of three commenters to my ARC list for My Heart’s True Delight.