Choose Your Family

If you could hand-pick your family, whom would you include? Would your birth family make the cut? If the answer is yes, cherish these relationships. Having kind parents, siblings and grandparents provides built-in social support for the ups and downs of life. If the answer is no, then now is the time to build your own family.

Usually we think of selecting family only in terms of picking a spouse. Finding a supportive life partner is wonderful, but other types of relationships can be just as important for a happy and healthy life.

The Harvard prospective study of adult development observed a cohort of adults as their lives unfolded over 75+ years. One of the strongest predictor of optimistic aging outcomes was level of social support. People with rich relationships were healthier and lived longer than people without strong social support. This is one of the most robust and often replicated findings in the aging research.

Develop your chosen family by seeking connections outside of your age cohort. Adopt another mother or father by pursuing relationships with people a generation older than you. Connect with people younger than you, including children in your community. In your peer relationships, honor your friends who feel like supportive siblings. This intergenerational chosen family will keep you engaged physically, mentally and emotionally and will help you to age well.

The other important finding is that conflictual relationships, especially marriages, negatively impact health. If any of your closest connections are fraught, then do your part to improve these relationships. Work on your compassion, listening, assertiveness skills; seek counseling if needed; and let go if it becomes clear that the person won’t do their part to make the relationship work. Fewer high-quality relationships are better than many toxic ones.

Surround yourself with people you would want to adopt. Your chosen siblings, parents, grandparents, children and pets can contribute to a long and happy life. Savor and nurture these special relationships.
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