By JENNY PRUITT CLEVELAND

Solitude might be what’s required for women “to find again the true essence of themselves:  that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of a whole web of human relationships” (says Ann Morrow Lindbergh in Gift of the Sea). But if we want to hold onto that true essence of ourselves, we’ve got a better chance if we sprinkle plenty of camaraderie around our solitude.

 

The love and belonging we experience from socializing and friendship – that’s the third level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs after our basest psychological needs (air, water, food, shelter) and safety needs. And it’s essential for our survival. More and more studies (like this 2013 STUDY) reveal that social isolation is as bad for your health as smoking, obesity, elevated blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

 

For his 2015 book The Blue Zones Solution, National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner spent more than a decade identifying hot spots of longevity around the world (called Blue Zones). While Buettner’s book is chock full of foods and habits from the planet’s healthiest centenarians, it was one little word that’s stuck with me: “moai.” (mo-eye)

 

It’s a word used in Okinawa, Japan to describe lifelong friendship circles, a concept that originated with farmers getting together to discuss their crops and how to support one another should their crops fail.

 

When Buettner sat with spry 104-year-old Gozei Shinzato (“with the flexibility of a yogi and the frenetic energy of a Chihuahua,” Buettner describes), he saw her moai stop in for tea and conversation.

 

“Whenever things had gotten rough in Shinzato’s life,” writes Buettner, “when she’d run short of cash or when her husband died 46 years ago, she’d counted on her moai and the Okinawan sense of social obligation – yuimaru – to support her. Her friends had relied on a lifetime of Shinzato’s support in return.”

 

Your moai is your group of BFFs.  People who have your back, who remind you that you don’t have to go it alone. It’s those BFFs who, if you’re lucky, live down the street and stop in for tea and conversation, or who, if they’re spread around the world, leave you voice or video calls on apps like Marco Polo or WhatsApp.

 

Research shows that if you’re part of a moai, you’ll live longer, be happier, and feel less stressed. But only if you’re part of the right kind of moai.

 

Do you encourage a healthy lifestyle for each other?

Do you listen to each other and feel emotionally connected to each other?

And do you seek happiness together?

 

We all have times we just need to “dump” on our BFF.  Days when hormones, significant others, kids, jobs, passions, projects, etc. (or the lack thereof for all of those) are just off.  But there’s a difference in that and simply being an unhappy person. That’s when the old adage “misery loves company” comes into play and your moai starts having a negative effect on your health and wellness.

 

If you’re moai-deficient, think of it as you would an iron or calcium deficiency. You’d start supplementing, right? So, start supplementing. Start reaching out. Invite someone to lunch. Join that club or social organization. Start opening up.  Inch your way forward.

 

New research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships claims it takes 200 hours of quality time spent together to become BFFs. Sounds like a lot at first. But, that’s the equivalent of just eight and one-third days together.

50 hours to move from acquaintance to casual friend.

90 more hours to move that casual friend to a regular friend.

110 more hours to move that regular friend to a BFF.

Sprinkle those hours in around your solitude. Your future BFF needs it as much as you!

 

Jenny Pruitt Cleveland is a Content Creator in Nashville, Tenn. She swims, bikes, and runs a lot. In former lives she’s been a middle school teacher, magazine reporter and editor, cycling tour guide, and underwater photographer.