Over the holidays, I regularly host a large ornament exchange, to which i invite about fifty people, and maybe twenty to thirty come. We always have a great time, and many of these friends tell me it is the highlight of their holiday season, which is nice, because it is certainly a highlight of mine. Why? Our children (who were the basis of our acquaintance, friendship and frequent socializing years ago) are grown and gone now, and with our busy work schedules and other commitments, many of us only see each other at this annual event; and sadly,we are not unusual. Many adults are alone more than they’d like to be, and if this solitude becomes isolation or loneliness, it can have an effect on our health and of course, our overall quality of life.
Let’s face it, adult friendships are typically forged through work or at school or sporting events with the kids. Once that is gone, it takes a much more intentional effort to make the social connections that everyone needs to thrive. But the effort is worth it, not only to fill our social calendars (if that’s what we want), but also to stay physically and mentally healthy. We are above and after all, social beings, and one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves is to cultivate our social lives.
One way to do this is to build on the wonderful way in which all of us become much more ourselves in middle age. By this time, pretense has fallen away. All of us have won and lost at life; we’ve questioned our decisions, and made small or radical changes as the years have gone by. We realize the value of companionship, of being seen and appreciated by someone we too see and appreciate. Without anything to prove, we can just enjoy each other. The pressure to impress is over.
I find that I am conversely more protective of my alone time, and at the same time more open to saying yes to social outings with acquaintances and neighbors I don’t know so well. The paradox has provided a certain balance while making life more interesting. I’ve even found a few new friends along the way. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche says, “The sun of real happiness shines in your life when you start to cherish others.” What are you waiting for?