The Importance of Supportive Relationships

Every so often we need to take a breather from the daily drumbeat of news and market data, to remind ourselves why we expend so much effort in our info-scouting and dot-connecting duties here at If we don't, it's dangerously easy to get mired in unproductive angst directed at our corrupted financial system, our reckless monetary & fiscal policies, and our short-sighted consumption of non-renewable resources. When that happens, every day presents us with ample new opportunity to mount our soapbox for an indignant rant; and while it feels cathartic, it doesn't create progress.

So, it's useful to lift our heads out of the outrage du jour (for the past 2 weeks, that's been the blatant downward price manipulation of the precious metals) and re-focus on what we're trying to accomplish with this site.

Our mission isn't about helping folks amass more money. Or about becoming more "green." Those may be means to our ultimate objective, but they aren't the end goal. What we're about is enabling prosperity.

So, what do we mean by 'prosperity'?

Many things, really. Financial security/comfort, good physical and emotional health, purposeful work, a lifestyle sustainable with our individual and environmental means, meaningful relationships – these are all key elements within our definition of prosperity. We could perhaps even simplify this further: "to live a long, happy life" amidst the changes of the next twenty years predicted by the Crash Course.

The Terman & Grant Studies

Two of the most important research initiatives to study well-being over time were the Grant Study and Lewis Terman's Genetic Study of Genius.

The Grant Study followed 237 male subjects for 68 years. Terman's work began in 1921 and is still ongoing (in fact, it's the oldest and longest-running longitudinal study in the world).

Both studies followed their subjects over decades and made note of many attributes of their lives. This is important, as it gave the researches the ability to see what factors had statistically-relevant impact in shaping how quality of life progressed for the participants.

From the data, researchers were able to identify and quantify the influence of the behaviors and life developments most likely to improve or worsen personal well-being.

Psycho-blogger Eric Barker recently summarized the key takeaways in his post What two things do lifelong studies agree on when it comes to living a long, happy life?

One key predictive factor is having a happy childhood. For most of us, there's little we can do about this one. We had the childhood we had. 

But for those who have regrets, coming to terms with what was (or wasn't), either through self-reflection or structured therapy, is likely a constructive step. Accepting the past, especially one you had little control over at the time, diminishes its power to influence your behavior today (which the study shows an unhappy childhood often does, in destructive ways)

And, of course, those of us who are parents (or relatives, caretakers, mentors, neighbors, or influencers of kids) can be mindful of this insight in creating the best environment we can for our children. 

The other big finding was that supportive relationships are critical. In particular, the giving of support to others had the biggest impact on longevity and life happiness.

From Barker's blog:

What was the Terman study’s most important recommendation for a longer life?

…connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program.

Read that sentence again. It wasn’t receiving help from others, it was giving it.

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

We figured that if a Terman participant sincerely felt that he or she had friends and relatives to count on when having a hard time then that person would be healthier. Those who felt very loved and cared for, we predicted, would live the longest. Surprise: our prediction was wrong… Beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.

When asked to distil down the learnings of the 68-year Grant Study, its principal investigator, George Valliant declared: "Happiness is love. Full stop."

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Vaillant’s insight came from his seminal work on the Grant Study, an almost seventy-year (and ongoing) longitudinal investigation of the developmental trajectories of Harvard College graduates. (This study is also referred to as the Harvard Study.) In a study led by Derek Isaacowitz, we found that the capacity to love and be loved was the single strength most clearly associated with subjective well-being at age eighty.

Vaillant’s other main interest is the power of relationships. “It is social aptitude,” he writes, “not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging.” Warm connections are necessary—and if not found in a mother or father, they can come from siblings, uncles, friends, mentors. The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger. In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

Close relationships are so important, that the single-best predictor of living to a ripe age happily depends on your answer to this question:

The Grant Study realized there was a single yes/no question that could predict whether someone would be alive and happy at age 80:

“Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to?”

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to? If your answer is yes, you will likely live longer than someone whose answer is no. For George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who discovered this fact, the master strength is the capacity to be loved. 

Cultivating Relationships

So, by now you're hopefully asking yourself: What am I doing in my life to maintain and improve the quality of my relationships? I sure did after learning the findings of these studies.

Perhaps surprisingly, many readers of report that creating/cultivating relationships is the area they are least far along with in their efforts to build resiliency.

Why is that? A variety of reasons, but common among them are complaints that:

  • our suburban/urban lifestyles don't encourage neighborly relationships
  • the demands of work and life leave us simply too busy
  • the omnipresence of digital and social media are weakening our culture's ability to form meaningful personal relationships
  • have trouble wanting to spend time with friends/spouses/partners who don't "get it" ("it" being the big picture framework addressed in the Crash Course)
  • don't know how to identify or plug into new groups
  • can feel awkward/intimidating to pro-actively seek out new social connections

All of these may be true to certain extents. But they aren't insurmountable limitations.

The good news is that cultivating relationships is something that all of us can do. Sure, it takes a little courage, a pro-active approach, sometimes a thick skin, and – for sure – an investment of our time. But those are all elements under our control.

A key tactic for success is to start small. Don't pressure yourself to head out the door and return with ten new best lifelong friends. Swing for singles at first instead of home runs: have a conversation with somebody new today. Wave to that neighbor you never talk to. Leave an apple in the mailbox for the mailman.

As the Grant Study reveals, our well-being benefits most in the giving of support. Find ways to offer support as a relationship ice-breaker: Deliver extra garden produce to your neighbors. Volunteer on a community project. Donate time or money to a church or school. Ask an elder if there's any assistance they'd particularly appreciate. Some good other ideas were recently shared on the site in this thread.

You'll quickly find that unexpected kindness is a universally accepted currency, with high odds of being repaid.

If you haven't read it already, review the excellent work by SagerXX in this site's Community Building wiki. It's a very useful compendium of steps both large and small for developing and deepening relationships, particularly in your local area. And if inspired, consider joining our Community Building Group, in which members share reports of new best practices they've found "real world" success with; as well as offer emotional support to each other in the virtual world.

Maintaining Perspective

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it's difficult not to get consumed by the growing barrage of anxiety-producing developments we see every day in the media. Most days, I'm online at 6am and within minutes my day is already over-programmed with new tasks to react to how the world has changed since the day before. Too often I finally make time to squeeze my 'morning' shower in after I've put my girls to bed (TMI, I apologize).

If in the midst of my day, my angst-levels rise dangerously high (frustration at the blatant market manipulation, concern at society's levels of unpreparedness - whatever the trigger), I'll often step away from the computer and release steam by working the garden, going for a run, or filling a hole in my homestead preparations.

What I typically haven't done at these moments is proactively think of how I can advance the quality and/or quantity of my relationships. But since reading the results of the Grant and Terman studies, that's changing. 

I've started getting together, once a week for an hour, with a group of guys to play tennis. We're all business owners, our kids go to the same schools, we care about the quality of the town we live in, and we enjoy getting a little exercise in the sun. It often feels uncomfortably inconvenient to leave the demands of this site when our tennis date hits each week, but I force myself to put the keyboard and iPhone down and before I know it, I'm blissfully unaware of the Fed, the price of gold, and the mystery glitch that plagues our servers at midnight. It really does feel that the break from everyday stress, plus strengthening my bonds with these buddies (none of whom I knew 8 months ago when I moved up to my new town), adds a few days to my life each time I do it.

In addition, I've gone out of my way in a manner I never did before to get involved with my daughter's schools and sports teams, to buy from local farms and meet the farmers actually growing the food, to shop locally and introduce myself to the store owners, to share the eggs/vegetables/honey we're producing on our property with our neighbors – in short, to be an engaged participant in my local community.

I relate all this to provide an example demonstrating that cultivating relationships is very doable. It's not always easy, or comfortable, or convenient; but it's definitely worth the investment. In my family's case, we're already more part of the fabric of our community here than we were after our previous 15 years in Silicon Valley.

Hopefully, others reading this will add their community building success stories in the Comments section below. The intent here is to inspire folks to focus a bit more on relationships than they otherwise would.

Because after all, who wouldn't want to live a longer, happier life?

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

One of the things I absolutely love about Peak Prostperity is your willingness to address this side of the equation.  I appreciate the honesty, authenticity and heartfulness that you display in this post.  You're modelling how we can create community where we live.

Thank you!

–Suzie (formerly very avid tennis player)

p.s. - maybe I should pick up a tennis racket again

Einstein said something along the lines of:  The value of a man resides in what he gives, not what he is able to receive
I was waiting for a post like this to appear on PP.  I enjoy all the articles that are finance related, but that is only one small drop in the bucket of building resilience.  In fact, it comes in at step 7 of 9 on the What Should I Do? Guide.

I'm an introvert.  I am more than capable of being social and even the life of the party if I choose to be, but it isn't my preferred state.  I enjoy being in small groups much better and I personally find it more meaningful.  I find it difficult to go out and do some of the things mentioned.  There are plenty of social activities to take part in, which does take the focus off the day to day struggles. 

Adam, have you read anything regarding the study about extraversion and introversion?  Any observations or results you could comment on? 

Great post.  Thank you!

Great article Adam. Nuff said. yes

One activity Adam mentioned, getting involved in your children's sports activities, really rings a bell with me.  Like many dads, I coached Little League for six years coinciding, not coincidentally, with my son's Little League career.  My family developed very close bonds with another family whose dad I coached with for four of those years and another year or two of Babe Ruth.  They have five boys currently ranging in age from 12 to 22.  The second eldest is the same age as my son and they have been teammates from LL to Babe Ruth to travel ball.  The dad and his first two sons are coaching a 13-15 Babe Ruth team this year for which the three younger boys will be playing.  Anybody who has had anything to do with youth baseball within a 50 mile radius knows that family.  They are legendary. 
I retired last year and have begun coaching LL again.  Despite the BS that is present in all youth sports (mostly caused by parents) I can't tell you how much joy I get from teaching kids the fundamentals of a game I love and watching them develop into HS players and some advancing on to college ball.  Of course you run into all sorts of families of the kids and negotiating those relationships is very challenging, but you also make close friends and develop lots of enduring relationships in a small community like ours.  I encourage everyone who has kids to participate is some way, even as team mom or the guy who brings water to the games.  Its a great way to get to know folks in an activity that is not about you.


For those of you who have trouble breaking the ice with others, I've noticed that hobbies and passions are a great way to connect. I have a passion for reading, writing and storytelling. So I joined an online writing group, and–at their suggestion–went to a few science fiction and fantasy writer's conventions. I just celebrated 7 years at the helm of a well-known SF & F magazine. My friends all share that passion, and I have close friends in the genre that, yes, I could call at 4 AM. My vacations all revolve around seeing these folks at conventions, and some are local, too.
I've seen it happen with other interests: an artist who paints a mural with the community and meets other artists, an old-car enthusiast who connects at antique car meet-ups, a beekeeper who joins a local beekeeping club and makes friends for life. Volunteering at food pantries, schools, and other charities can connect you with others.

But yes, it's better to give than receive. We recently helped the husband of our closest neighborhood friends to get a job, and he helped my husband get a fun second income. None of the relationship was embarked on with profit in mind, but it's hard to outgive others once the cycle of giving is initiated. And you can start the giving with a smile.

Great addition to the site, Adam, a real keeper.  What struck me was the necessity of giving before "getting"; any relationship requires reciprocity, but those who give freely will create positive vibes that nurture relationships. Our awareness of others and the power of empathy probably play a role in longevity and health.
Some young friends just called us at 3 am to check in–they're in Finland and lost track of the time difference… I am happy to get calls from friends new and old, but 6 am is a more civilized hour, for goodness sakes…

One practice that offers a huge boost to happiness or a sense of well being, or whatever it is that is being measured to indicate that we are 'content' rather than 'bothered' if that's a fair distinction, is gratitude.
Treebeard touched on it, but it's no more or less complicated than being grateful for what we have in any moment in time, although not necessarily what we have in relation to what others have. Of course measuring our bounty against what others have or lack, deserved or not, is an easy and often very good starting point for gratitude, so I support the idea.

But there is also the practice of noticing what we have without reflection or comparison against what others have or do not have. My truth is that being alive, here and now, is the greatest gift I could possibly have. And if my 'now' was very different, possibly involving what we might all agree was some form of hardship, then that too would be a gift because each moment has something to teach us.  

Life is simply choices.   Either we bring our best and learn from whatever is givenin that moment or we do something else. Something I've learned over time is that by choosing not to learn from an experience, I usually get to experience that same lesson over again at a later date but in a larger and more obvious fashion until I have learned what needed to be learned.

So being grateful for what we have is the first blessing. As the above post indicates, it is not our physical possessions that deserve our most profound gratitude but the simple alchemy of being alive, here and now.

The other main learning I have had to bump up against over and over again in life is that receiving itself is a gift. What I mean by this is that always being in the giver mode is not actually as useful as it might seem, at least to me.

I always approached life with some internal scorecard where as long as I was in 'net creditor' mode I was happy and thought I was being generous. If other people owed me money, or favors or whatever, that I was being a 'good person.' I did this thinking that by giving others more than I received that I held no power over them.

Now I understand that is just not true.

Giving and receiving both have to be done gracefully and graciously, and I am learning that the bonds of community are strengthened as much by those who ask and receive graciously as those who give graciously.

So being in non-monetary debt to others is often an act of humility and just as important as the opposite. Monetary debt is more fraught with dangers given our culture, but still a possibility, but not as 'easy' as being in some form of favor-based debt. At least that's my experience.

To the two opportunities that I raise for discussion are developing a practice of gratitude and learning how to be in debt to others, or at least being perceptive to the balance thereof which can do as much for community bonding as being the best giver in history.

Yes, Yes, Yes.
The quality of our relationships is the center from which the new order will grow. 

Thank you all.

I always appreciate these kind of post it adds greatly to the value of being a member of peak prosperity. Thanks again Adam 

Nice job Adam…I really appreciate how you and PP take a broad view as to the key factors toward building prosperity, meaning and happiness into our lives.  It is easy to become preoccupied with the financial, political, and resource/materialistic areas and forget the more meaningful areas that dont make the daily news.  I love that you can step back and evaluate the many blessings that you (and we) have so we can appreciate the glass half full (and that we even have a glass).  We are blessed to live at a truly extraordinary time in history…this will be an exceptionally interesting next few years and we will all learn alot.  To Chris' point, we not only need to learn to be better givers but also to be grateful receivers of others gifts to us. Ben Franklin learned early on that one way to develop friendships was to borrow other peoples books so that they too could enjoy the feeling of serving others.  I am rejuvenated to focus more effort on developing deeper personal relationships which has not been as high a priority as I know it should.  THANKS!

Great article and posts. I would only add laughter. Your family members love to laugh, your friends love to laugh, your enemies love to laugh, animals, nature, God, all love to laugh. Get together and laugh. It can get you through the toughest times and make the best times better. cheeky

What strikes me about having someone you can call at 4am that you can tell your troubles to, is the willingness to tell your troubles. The relationship is a necessary part of that equation, but I would argue that cultivating the ability to express and move through your feelings in the presence of the relaxed, loving, attention of another human being is one of the greatest resiliency skills one could learn. All that stuff we accumulate during the day, or over a lifetime, sticks with us, in our minds and bodies, and interferes with the quality of our experience in life if we don't find a way to release it. Many people prefer solitary pursuits like gardening or a walk, and gains can certainly be made on one's own, but there is something transformative that happens when we allow another person in, even just a little. And it also does us good when another person lets us in. Making a practice of trading listening time with another person, setting a timer for even just 5 minutes, and allowing them to give you their full, undivided, attention while you talk or laugh or cry about whatever is up for you, without them interrupting you, or offering you their opinion, interpretations or advice, can be a profoundly moving experience. Most of us can't remember the last time we felt like someone really paid attention and listened to us. And having the ability to listen deeply to another human being, in the midst of whatever is going on for them, without taking it on or having to fix it, is one of the greatest gifts you could give. We often overlook or discount our own power to connect because we forget that just being there is often enough. It might not matter if you know exactly what to say or have any idea what they should do, but beaming your love, affection, and confidence in their own abilities to figure things out might just be all they really need. So I invite you to try it. Find a listening buddy and take turns listening to each other. See if you can connect in a way you don't normally connect and see if you can keep this mindset from spilling over into every  interaction you have once you figure it out. 

Great article, and an important area for me to work on.  I've been trying to get better about slowing down and sincerely listening to others as well as sharing more of my thoughts in return.

[quote=Adlevy]Adam, have you read anything regarding the study about extraversion and introversion?  Any observations or results you could comment on? 
Great post.  Thank you!
Hi, I found information on longevity studies here: (Scroll down to the section titled "Friendly and Convivial".) Psychologists Howard S. Friedman, PhD, and Leslie R. Martin, PhD used Terman's study to recreate a study of scientists and non-scientists. Some of their findings:
“The surprising news here is that sociability, generally speaking, isn’t as health protective as people think,” the authors write. “Being a ‘people person’ can have its benefits, but those who rank high on sociability often find themselves in environments that encourage unhealthy behaviors—and they join in the dangers of the moment.”
Friedman and Martin say it pays to be selective in your socializing. Friendly people who chose wisely reap long term health benefits. “Further, many of the more introverted children in our study grew up to take on stable jobs and develop steady friendships, which were just as valuable for health and long life. So if you’re socially reluctant and you’re okay with that—so are we.”
Hope for us introverts. :slight_smile:

Aye Chris.  I myself operated as you described, always striving to be a "net creditor".  I never kept track of who I gave to and how much, but was always semi-conscious of giving more that I took.  In fact, I avoided receiving at all… But I didn't realize I was missing half of the magic of life.  I don't recall exactly when or how the change took place, it was some years back, but learning to receive graciously has completed that circle of magic.  I am blessed and grateful, and acknowledge that daily, sometimes even twice a day .  Wonderful article Adam, blessings on all of us…Aloha, Steve


I agree with all that's been said, and want to add a bit about the workplace.
I'm in the process of hiring a young man primarily based on his attitude and his ability to relate well with my other employees and my customers. He' very family oriented and friends with everyone in the remote community where we live.  His skill set is lacking. It's a bit of a leap of faith to offer him a position he will have to grow into, but I've hired based on skills before, when character was lacking, and often got burned. This thread helps affirm what I'm doing.

“The bank of love is never bankrupt.”
Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

As we move thru the mechanisms of collapse thru the many articles found on this site it is easy to let the mind stray toward fear, anxiety and the unknown (uncertainty) . In my experiences I have discovered that collapse is the great revealer, its returning humanity in its many forms with relationships blossoming and many of life's most important lessons are being taught in bright fashions. When life is viewed from the perspective of the relationships we hold, our futures will be full of love, belonging and meaningfulness.
To be in debt to gratitude is just the natural state of a happy healthy human being. This natural state intiates love!

Our outward worlds are just a reflection of our inward worlds. Collapse is just showing us who we really are, acceptance and love are energies to embrace as we move thru this period as we transition into something else. The "something else" will be controlled by the emotional release of which ever energies we collectively embrace. We get to choose who we become!