Relationships save lives

Psychology professor Clay Routledge, in a recent Op-Ed for the New York Times, explored possible factors contributing to the growing and troubling rate of suicide in United States of America. Since 1999, suicide rates have risen 25%. Recent high profile suicides rattled the public- Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

Why are many people so unhappy? According to Routledge, feeling like your life is meaningful contributes to wellbeing. Recent social trends have made Americans feel their lives are less meaningful.

Specifically, he says, relationships are incredibly important for making our lives feel meaningful. As Americans marry later and have fewer children, join fewer clubs and religious organizations and interact less with neighbors, they have also begun to feel more lonely and isolated. Routledge cites research which shows American women actually report they have fewer children than they wanted. In the sociological classic Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam presents even more evidence regarding the growing trend of American relationships splintering, from family relationships to neighborly relationships.

According to Routledge, this is damaging because relationships give meaning to our lives. When people feel their lives are not meaningful, they are more likely to become angry and depressed. However, simply having kind people around to chat with is not enough. People need deep relationships in which they feel valued and loved, and in which they value and love others.

This message regarding the importance of love is emphasized in countless spiritual traditions. It turns out there is a real scientific basis for caring for the people around us and in our lives. We will live longer, more meaningful, and thus happier lives.

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Picture from the public domain.