The following is an excerpt from a series called "Rethinking Aging" from speaker, writer, and aging specialist, Sue Ronnenkamp. Sue recently facilitated our Community Kickoff Event in Westminster and Arvada, CO, and used this as a handout for the attendees.
Keys for Connected Living
Connected living can be incredibly powerful. We’re just so much better and stronger together than we are alone. Here are my seven keys to help guide us in this important direction. All of them focus on the value of community, along with the best ways to build support and companionship. Doing this can greatly expand and enhance the aging experience in so many valuable ways.
What’s this? It’s a South African term that means “People are not people without other people.” As Nelson Mandela points out in The Book of Joy, human beings are social animals and we flourish best in community. This is where we feel truly human because we belong. This is where we find our greatest happiness.
2. The alternative can kill us
It’s true. Studies find again and again that living in isolation can be deadly. And it can feel pretty darn awful too. As Dr. Ira Byock pointed out in his book The Four Things That Matter Most, even our judicial system recognizes the human drive for connection in its penal code. Short of execution, solitary confinement is the worst punishment permitted by Western law. So why would we actively choose this for our later life experience?
3. It’s an upsizing experience
Yes, it’s a “downer” if we view shifting to shared housing as only about having to part with some of our stuff or reducing the size of our home or living space. Instead, it can be so much more. We’ll upsize our life by joining with others, and broaden and enrich our well-being in so many powerful and meaningful ways. Connecting up with others in community is truly one of the best ways to keep living our best life (or to start living again, for anyone who stopped along the way).
"Security and peace of mind don't come from stuff or a house. They come from the quality of our relationships."
- Margaret Wheatley
4. It’s the real thing
Technology and assistive devices can be very helpful, but they’re no substitute for true community. Likewise, social media can be fun and time consuming in good ways, but it’ll never make up for face-to-face connections. Security, peace of mind, and belonging come from knowing the people around us, and from having readily available support within reach. Nothing substitutes for the real thing. Nothing.
5. Parts and pieces can make a whole
“We may not have it all together, but together we can have it all.”
True for all ages – but especially in later life when deficits and disabilities can add up fast. Together we can lean in for encouragement – and team up and combine parts in all sorts of ways to make a WHOLE. Peer-to-peer and friend-to-friend support is best. Living with others makes this so easy and so very accessible.
6. Together counts for even more
Not only is engagement with others one of the top four keys for aging well (read more about this in the landmark book Successful Aging by John Rowe, M.D. and Robert Kahn, PhD.). Social engagement benefits our physical and mental health too. Pluses include fewer colds, lower blood pressure, less stress, better sleep, and improved cognition. Yes, even our brains function better when we connect with people in meaningful ways.
7. Just connect
When we live in community, connections come in all sizes—big and small, casual and deep. Whatever the size and depth, every relationship can count in some way. So let’s find our form of community and make connecting all the easier. Let’s also start practicing connecting skills today by looking up, making eye contact, greeting someone new, and reaching out to those we know. This doesn’t have to be done perfectly. We just have to do it and connect up where and when we can. Then repeat, repeat, repeat. Our connections with others can make such a powerful difference.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
- Helen Keller