“I feel lonely”
“I don’t have many friends”
“Seems like no one cares anymore”
These are expressions from people surveyed recently for The Harvard Study of Adult Development, which is the longest study on happiness in U.S. history. It's been going on for 85 years now and has followed the entire lives of people surveyed from childhood to adulthood. What gripped my attention was that the percentage of people holding these views has been on the rise for the last 2 decades, leading to psychological issues as mentioned below -
The population has only grown, but people prefer staying single.
The world has only gotten more connected, but people still feel disconnected.
The classrooms have gotten bigger, but people are scared to make eye contact.
An analogy of this irony would be that you are a fish swimming in the deep seas and frantically looking for something called “water.”
It's right there. You are in it.
I was listening to Derek Thompson's podcast “Plain English,” where he interviews the director and associate director of this Harvard study, Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, who have also recently published a book on the subject - 'The Good Life'. It talks about what their study should teach all of us about the secret to a long and fulfilling life.
And they found out that Social Fitness was the no. 1 skill that contributes to longevity. The idea behind Social fitness is that the people in the study who had the warmest connections with other people stayed the healthiest and were the happiest as they went through their lives.
How you may ask? I will let the directors answer this -
“One is that relationships turn out to be really good stress busters. They help us navigate through stressful challenges. We rely on a friend or a partner to figure out the right path to help us deal with all the emotions that we might have, to tell us that we’re not thinking about something in the right way or we’ve lost a piece of it that’s really important.
We experience a sense of vitality and human connection when we’re with people. We experience less pain if we’re holding the hands of others.
These relationships that we’re talking about, close connections, can affect your immune functioning. Literally, if you have a wound, your wound will heal quicker if you’re in a connected and warm relationship with a partner. It affects our immunological functioning and our inflammatory patterns.”
I am already fascinated, as those who know me, know very well that my dream project is living a life filled with vitality and abundance for 100 + years. No wonder this topic caught my attention and took me down a rabbit hole of sorts. Hence the piece.
I would like to take these findings further and break down the equation as -
Social Fitness = EQ + PQ
Emotional Quotient refers to your ability to deal with your own emotions, self-awareness, and being mindful of your behavior and your presence. People Quotient is your ability to deal with people effectively, communicate with them, lead them, follow them, and everything about your interaction with others. If you can do both, that's when you score well on social fitness.
Unfortunately, working on these skills doesn’t figure in the set of priorities for most people. The major priorities that most spend their lives chasing are to become rich or famous. But many miss the obvious, even I did for a long stretch of time, that there are ingredients that go into increasing our odds of becoming successful, rich, or famous.
And since we live in a stochastic world, being successful, rich, or famous isn't even entirely in our hands. It depends on factors, on most occasions, that are completely out of our control.
But working on our Social Fitness is completely in our control. This is one skill that one can slowly go to work on and sharpen oneself over time to become effective at conducting their own affairs and dealing with others. And it's these skills that can make you stand out, and win opportunities that could change your life. And you don’t need 100 of them, sometimes just one is enough.
Patrick O’Shaughnessy is the father of the Colossus family of podcasts which includes Invest Like the Best, Business Breakdowns, Founders, Return on India, and many more. In his interviews on Invest Like the Best, he would always end the episode by asking the guest “What’s the kindest thing someone has done for you?” and invariably the answer from all the guests would be “That person trusted me and gave me a chance.” These are billionaires, multi-millionaires, business tycoons, and legends of their industries and all had someone who was willing to bet on them at some point in their careers.
That’s the beauty of Social Fitness, it increases your likeability factor for those who are on the lookout for talent or competency, or even lifelong friendships and partnerships. How about consciously putting more energy into this skill, instead of things outside of your control? It’ll be totally worth it.
Another comment made by the authors was that people’s No. 1 regret was “I just wish I didn’t spend so much time working so hard.” I think there is a lot more to unpack here. It may not be the ‘working hard’ part that someone regrets, as many of us do that too in our own professions. But what likely turns into regret is that there was no time left to build deeper connections and meaningful relationships. This latter part is what makes the working hard part eventually seem pointless.
And many influencers on social media have also encouraged this kind of mentality, the best example being the recent tweet by Kevin O’Leary -
That tweet got insane amounts of engagement with millions being exposed to the message, and many being pissed off at the blind pursuit of success that is being propagated by some who have amassed huge sums of wealth and are still not happy with it. He is the same guy that agreed to market FTX (now bankrupt and under investigation) in exchange for USD 15 million payouts. So he doesn’t care if the retail investor loses his entire savings following his advice, as all he cares about is getting richer every day, come what may.
In addition to many such Mr. Wonderful online, you also have the AI/ML algorithms on your social media apps constantly sharing with you images of a picturesque villa in Bali or a mesmerizing cruise in Alaska. No wonder you are almost always feeling anxious to do more, and achieve more, so that you earn more, only so that you can spend more.
The funny thing about this loop is that it never ends. There is always someone enjoying a better holiday, living in a bigger or a better house, or driving a bigger and faster car. This game has no end, and it only stops with your exit from this beautiful planet.
Why play a game where you can only burn yourself out with a 0.000000001% probability of becoming as rich as Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk? How about playing a better game i.e. Pursuing Happiness? And the best part, almost all the props of this game are free.
Few suggestions to play this game well #
Long walks/date nights
Learning a skill together
Speaking to family members
Taking on a challenge together
Replacing screen time with people time
Regular sports/activities with close friends
Interviewing dear ones to give you feedback
Participating in multi-day workshops/training camps
Voice Notes/Video Calls instead of forwarded messages
Sparking joy in a relationship by doing something new together
None of the outcomes from any of these protocols have any linear impact on your desire to become successful or famous or rich. But each of them has opportunities within to build your social fitness levels, leading to deeper relationships, better people skills, and self-awareness. These are assets in a world that seems to be torn apart and overwhelmed with noise and minutiae.
“There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with.” - Seneca
When I look back at my last two decades, there are a few of these decisions that have immensely contributed to creating a wholesome life filled with beautiful relationships and lovely memories. I didn’t know anything about social fitness at that time but what I do know today for certain, is that all these decisions allowed me to work on myself and get better at this game, one brick at a time.
Few of my life-changing decisions #
Building a business along with my wife (2011 - 2014)
Restricting social media to max 30 mins a day (mainly Twitter)
Muting all notifications on my mobile except for calls from known numbers
Attending Landmark Education Workshops and eventually volunteering with them for five years (2003 - 2008). My whole family, cousins, and even close friends eventually attended these programs too.
Attending a Writers Workshop with ODW in 2021
Attending Building a Second Brain Workshop in 2020
Attending multi-day military-style Leadership Bootcamps
Participating in wellness/biohacking/nutrition events in many countries
Attending the 5-day Investment Workshop hosted by Flame University, Pune, India
Every single decision required me to work on my emotional quotient and my people quotient. Every decision provided me with constant feedback on things I was doing wrong, sometimes even leading to serious consequences for the teams I was part of. Every decision was an opportunity to cement many of the relationships on solid ground, where we got to know and understand each other many layers deep. Every decision had an opportunity to learn ‘how to lead’ and ‘self-discipline’.
You will be surprised at the amount of joy you would derive by being present in the moment by just muting all notifications on the phone. It’s beautiful to have no distractions from this stupid device which originally was meant for communicating, not to be disturbed for the entire waking 16 hours of my day. But that’s what it has exactly become.
None of these costed millions of dollars, or a whole year of giving up my worldly responsibilities. It only required me to venture out into the unknown and try things out, while removing constraints that would stop me from doing so. It only required me to consciously work on ‘getting better’ at being a human, while I was also busy doing what humans do i.e. work, earn, and take care of family.
None of us need to be the fish swimming in the deep seas and frantically looking for something called “water.”.
It's right there. We are in it.
Recommendations for the week #
Warren Buffet’s Annual letters are a treasure trove and have been my go-to source for investing wisdom and for building mental frameworks. I have read every single one of them i.e. from 1965 to 2021. The 2022 Annual letter was released recently and it is a MUST READ, especially the last two pages where he shares the wisdom from Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. It’s only 10 pages long and shouldn’t take more than 10 mins to go through it.
I was doing my usual morning walk at the beach last weekend and I was wondering which podcast to listen to for the two hours of my time while enjoying the sunrise and the sight of the ocean. I am delighted to have picked the Acquired podcast on The Complete History & Strategy of LVMH and it was a joyride to be on. I didn’t want the walk to end. If luxury brands or businesses interest you, then this one is a fascinating show to listen to.
Wishing you all a fantastic weekend ahead and hope you make video calls or go for a long walk or even better, mute all notifications on the phone for these two days ;)
Sending you loads of love and luck🥂
❤️ great piece, Manish!
Very Nice guidance with nice examples .
Yesterday i was having brunch with my High school friend and his family. We keep meeting regularly since 22 years. And My daughter always enjoys playing with his daughter . And i also meet regularly 4 of my university friends since we have been graduated 18 years Ago. And i enjoy that. But i have to work on the other points which are important 😊