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The Key To a Happy Life as You Get Older

I’m 64 and have an actuarial lifespan of another 19 years. I’ve been studying how to make the best of them. When I look around at my male peers, they aren’t doing so well. Here’s a sample: A couple of friends struggle with alcohol addiction. This has cost them their ability to go deep with thei…
By Seth Barnes

I’m 64 and have an actuarial lifespan of another 19 years. I’ve been studying how to make the best of them. When I look around at my male peers, they aren’t doing so well. Here’s a sample:

A couple of friends struggle with alcohol addiction. This has cost them their ability to go deep with their friends. Vulnerability is a struggle.

One friend did not take care of his health and has a terminal cancer. Another friend just had a near-death experience because of cancer.

One friend is retiring with extraordinary wealth, but has struggled to make friends.

Multiple other friends have been hurt by life’s hard knocks and have withdrawn from relationships.

What we need

To age well and stay happy, we need friends! A Harvard study over 80 years shows that this is the key to not just emotional health, but spills over into physical health as well:

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health…Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives.

Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too.”

The problem is that we (men especially) don’t have great models to follow. According to a Barna study, one in five men describes themselves as lonely. The average man has just two to five close friends. But as they get older, this number declines.

One study showed that older men find the number of interactions with close friends declining from 14 to 5. In other words, 25 days out of the average month, the average older man doesn’t talk to a close friend.

Why?

Why does this happen? Of course, as we age, we lose friends to poor health and eventual death. But this problem is compounded by three factors:

1. We lack skills. We live in a transactional world and don’t know how to do the things that good friends do. We don’t know how to be vulnerable. We don’t know how to forgive.

2. We lack purpose. Jobs, children and social commitments disappear as we get older. The Japanese have a concept called ikigai that has to do with purpose. Those who apply it tend to live longer.

3. Distance. We don’t live in proximity to those who could be friends. We have physical and emotional fences around our homes and lives. Social media has broadened our friendships, but made them an inch deep.

Biblical perspective

So what are we to do? Here’s a good place to start: The Bible says, “A man with many friends can still be ruined, but a true friend sticks closer than a brother.” Prov. 18:24

How do we do this? The poet David Whyte says that friendship that endures is marked by two characteristics: presence and forgiveness. Presence is showing up in a person’s life over time. It’s especially important during times of testing.

Forgiveness is essential because we are flawed humans. We hurt each other and withdraw as a way of protecting ourselves.

I personally am working on both broadening my network of friends and going deeper. I do this by showing up. Today I’m going to reach out to a couple of friends who I haven’t talked to in years. And I have a list of old friends that I pray for. Some I may need to seek forgiveness from.

It’s not easy. I’d rather not have to apologize for something I did. I’d rather just let bygones be bygones. But I’m determined to do the hard work necessary to age well. How about you?

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