By: Travis Webster, M.Div.
You have probably heard the Leo Tolstoy quote: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” If you think about it, that sentiment might well extend to all relationships. The world seems to be full of detailed stories, both fiction and non-fiction, about difficult ones; but how often do we hear about the happy, functional ones to any degree?
Certainly, as a counselor-in-training at TACC, I have witnessed just how central of a role that relationships play in the lives of the individuals I see. I remember, early in my training, reading that most people come to counseling because, in some way or the other, they are concerned about their relationships. And this manifests in a number of different ways: not just interpersonal relationships, but relationships with self, God, society, the environment, and so many other things, both human and not. Frequently, we are aware of how these relationships feel difficult, unsatisfying, or even dangerous, but are not sure how to do anything about it. Moreover, it can be easy for the unhappiness of relationships to overshadow, or at least influence, the good, satisfying ones that we do have.
As it turns out, and perhaps this should be no surprise, we are always learning more about the direct impact relationships have on our health. An article from Harvard Health Publishing, originally from 2010 and updated in 2019, reports on several studies that show just how much this is the case. According to the article, meaningful social connections influence our long-term wellbeing as powerfully as good diet, adequate sleep, and not smoking. Relationships affect how we handle stress, how healthy we are from a cardiovascular standpoint, and perhaps even the strength of our immune systems.
In addition to counseling and being a full-time doctoral student, I am the co-founder of Healthy Seminarians-Healthy Church (HSHC), a non-profit dedicated to researching, advocating for, and promoting the health of those preparing for pastoral ministry, in the hopes that these students can develop healthy habits that they can take with them into their church service (since pastors tend to struggle with their health, there is plenty of work to do!). One of the key factors that seems to affect pastoral health is exactly this lack of healthy, meaningful relationships. With this in mind, we provide support by inviting seminarians to intentionally examine and deepen relationships.
Whether or not you are preparing for ordained church service, relationships are central to your wellbeing, and I encourage you to spend some dedicated time cultivating them, strengthening them, starting new ones, and enjoying existing ones. If the studies are true, then our lives might well depend on it!