18 Apr 2013

Got Moai?

Moai is a type of community I first read about in Dan Buettner’s  book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest .  In Okinawa, people form social cooperatives called moai . These informal groups offer emotional, social or even financial assistance to one another.  While moai are often practical in their collaborative purposes, they also provide a way for men and women to share stress during difficult times and to serve as an extended family.
Being a member of a moai offers people everything from long-term friendships to group problem-solving, from financing a business to responding to a personal crisis. The foundation of these groups is trust and these close-knit groups are often an essential part of a person’s sense of well-being.

So what’s this got to do with mojo…or midlife?

How about a longer, better quality life?

Research is proving over and over again that community is a vital part of preventing disease and curing what ails you.  It’s better than quitting smoking or daily exercise! Being happy and strongly supported in community can extend your life up to 10 years.

Lonely people are not happy people. Depression affects 21 million Americans and increases your risk of many chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and chronic pain. In today’s society, it’s easy to become socially isolated. Neighbors are less likely to know each other. Coworkers are separated into cubicles until they drive home, isolated in their cars. Cell phones interrupt conversations and computers demand our attention 24/7.

Social isolation leads to the kind of loneliness that triggers the “fight or flight” response and all of the biochemical badness that comes with it.  Small doses of these biochemicals protect us from bad things, but as a way of life, chronic stress eats away at our minds and bodies.

So, what’s the cure for loneliness?

Beginning to build moai is a great place to start. When I moved to Asheville 5 years ago, I intentionally created community for myself. My nearest and dearest are my “chosen sisters”. These people allow me to just be who I am…no “fitting in” needed.

Creating this kind of community does require something of you. It requires a willingness to be vulnerable, open and authentic…which is not always comfortable. But testing the edges of your comfort zone is where your growth happens. And the long-term payoff of this stretch is huge.

Who doesn’t want to live a longer, healthier happier life?

What about you? Do you have a circle of support? Is it your family? Your neighbors? Your coworkers? Your church? Or, like so many of us, have you come to depend on online technologies to keep you connected? I certainly appreciate the electronic ways of keeping in touch…but there is nothing like a good old-fashioned sit-down with a dear friend (or two).

Whatever your mode of interaction, Barbara Bush’s advice is worth restating: Value your relationships. Care. Share. Listen. And then invite those you care about into a circle of support; form your own moai.

Dr. Anna Garrett

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