Thanksgiving: Celebrating the Gifts of Relationships with Family and Friends

Thanksgiving: Celebrating the Gifts of Relationships with Family and Friends

S.E. Williams

The Dali Lama said, “We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.” 

Thanksgiving Day is one of the special times each year we are intimately reminded of the value of relationships. Gathering with family and friends on this day is an American tradition as older than the nation itself.  

When people wonder about the true value of holidays, according to Dr. Stephen Sinatra of the Heart MD Institute, most would agree—”it is the joy of connecting with those you love and care for, and the opportunity to spend time with them.” That need to be connected lies at the very heart of human existence, Sinatra explained.  

These relationships are not only at the core of our existence, they help shape the contours of our lives. Sinatra noted how family relations are, “central to what makes us ill and what makes us healthy, what brings on sadness and what brings joy, what makes us hurt and what helps us heal.”

Science has also proven again and again that such connections can even extend our lives. In one study conducted by the University of South Carolina among a group of adults who were either married, living with a partner or single found, after adjusting for lifestyle factors, that those who were single had shorter proteins at the end of their chromosomes. These chromosomes, called telomeres, are associated with a shorter life expectancy. 

In addition, science has also affirmed that not having such relationships can literally injure the heart. According to Sinatra, these injuries are not limited to anger and the loss of love. A lack of relationships with family and friends, as well as emotional isolation, contribute as much to heart disease as does smoking, diet, inactivity, and other risk factors.

In one scientific assessment, researchers at San Diego State University studied the carotid, coronary artery health, and cardiovascular risk factors among approximately 400 women. They used ultrasound and another form of electron beam technology to compare their status at the beginning and end of an 11 to 14-year period.    

“We gather on this day to be thankful for what we have—for the family we love, the friends we cherish, and for the blessings that will come.”
Hoopoe Quotes

The results showed women in happy relationships had less atherosclerosis and showed slower progression of carotid artery disease, compared to those whose relationships were less satisfying. Women not in intimate relationships were found to have intermediate levels of artery degeneration.

Researchers who conducted the study concluded that high quality intimate relationships can protect against cardiovascular disease in women, similar effects on men were already confirmed in previous years. This information has important implications because heart disease remains the leading cause of death among women. 

Although individuals often joke about the ups and downs of holiday family gatherings and frequently shake their heads about the sometimes-challenging efforts it takes to maintain harmony with family and/or friends, most also agree they might suffer emotionally without these relationships.

In 2015, researchers at a Dallas-based institute asked two interesting questions regarding relationships. Firstly, does the source of social support from partners, relatives or friends, matter regarding health and longevity? And, secondly, does the frequency of contact make a difference?

To find answers to these questions, the researchers analyzed the results of a 1990 survey on social support. The survey participants included 12,709 men and women from age 18 to 90 years. Researchers also tracked the participants from 1990 through December 31, 2003, or until death.  

A statistical analysis of the data revealed that receiving social support from relatives reduced mortality risk by 19 percent as did the support of a partner or spouse. Proving again the important impact relatives have on one’s quality of life. 

This was not all the statistical analysis revealed. According to the researchers, “The study also found that if people had social contact with six or seven friends on a weekly basis, they reduced their chances of dying early by 24 percent.”

There are other studies that show people who spend time with family and friends are more successful in finding ways to cope with stress largely because they can talk through problems instead of pursuing negative coping mechanisms, like drugs, alcohol, etc. 

Additional studies have found that such relationships help improve one’s psychological well-being. This is largely because emotional support provided through social connections provide a greater sense of meaning in life and gives one a stronger sense of purpose. 

One’s connections to family and friends are the keys to lasting health, happiness and longevity.  In addition, these relationships take on added importance as people age. Educator Amritakana Das described social relationships this way, “They are like oxygen when we want to reach the summit of any mountain.”

Some people create their own family units as they navigate their way through life. Others cling closely to their families of birth expanding it with friends as they navigate through the years. 

This Thanksgiving, whoever you count among your circle of family and friends, celebrate those connections for all the reasons you already love them as well as for the benefits of health and longevity you gift one another. 

Happy Thanksgiving from the team at The IEVoice/Black Voice News

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