December 9, 2019
“Only connect” is something that E.M. Forster wrote in his novel Howard’s End (made into a quite good film, but not as good as the Merchant/Ivory film of A Room with a View).
I thought about this phrase on my flight home from France. I had been reading Tom Jones, which, I admit, is a bit of a chore. I couldn’t get into the book during the flight so I watched two unmemorable movies. What did make an impression were two TED talks that were available through Air France’s fairly extensive in-flight entertainment system.
The first was by Susan Pinker and recounted her findings in doing a research study on Sardinian centenarians and why they live so darn long. It turns out it’s not diet or exercise — it’s social connections. (Susan Pinker, by the way, is the sister of the great thinker and writer Steven Pinker). Even the crabbiest 100 year old in Sardinia has a network of great- grandchildren, neighbors and grandnieces who take care of him or her. These people have coffee in the same cafe, buy bread from the same bakery every day, and know everybody they deal with. This is good for your psyche but also for your physical well-being.
The second was by Robert Waldinger, head of clinical psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the long-running men’s health study, which started in 1938 and has yielded rich data on what makes people happy and successful. Happiness (not so much longevity in this case) doesn’t stem from money or fame (nothing wrong with those) but having some close relationships — what Dr. Waldinger calls “people you can count on.” You need three or more of these, but many people don’t even have one.
These talks hit me pretty hard. I am not a good connector; I don’t make friends easily, and I like spending time by myself. Many of my pursuits – reading, writing, piano – are solitary activities.
On the other hand, I’m very close to my wife, children and sisters, and I do have a few dear friends.
So, a 2020 resolution, and a public one at that. I’m going to add to the “circle of trust” adding one or two people I can count on — and more importantly, of course, one or two people who can count on me.
How am I going to do this? I haven’t a clue. That’s something I will be thinking about this month. I will keep you posted.