I love the opening story that Malcolm Gladwell writes in his book, Outliers, about the little Italian town of Roseto, which is in Pennsylvania.
The story he tells is that a visiting doctor, Stewart Wolf, was having a beer with a local doctor, who told him that the people from Roseto die of old age, rather than from heart attacks, cancer and the other diseases that cause death in many people. Dr. Wolf decided to investigate. He and a colleague and local medical students looked at the diet of the people of Roseto, and discovered that their diet wasn't great, and that many of the people were, in fact, struggling with obesity. Many smoked heavily.
Then they explored genetics, but discovered that people who moved away from Roseto did not share the same great health as their relatives in Pennsylvania. They looked at the region, but in towns close to Roseto, the death rate from heart attacks was three times that of Roseto. What Wolf finally realized is that their health was due to the town itself — to the way they lived in community.
They cared about each other. They had each other's backs. They talked with each other throughout the day. No one was homeless or without food. They lived in family compounds — sometimes with three generations in a house — and they felt safe. They were a happy community that experienced emotional intimacy.
Here's what emotional intimacy can provide:
The story of Roseto shows that feeling safe — knowing that others have your back, that others care about you and that you will always have a home and food — releases stress. We need to feel safe to have great health.
Loneliness is a killer. We're social beings, and we need to be with others and share our highs and lows with others. A deep sense of connection is built into the town of Roseto, but is sadly lacking in much of the rest of our culture.
3. Loving relationships
When partners do not feel safe enough to share their hurts, fears and joys, they become distant. In our busy lives, partners often spend little time with each other. Without the time to talk, share, help and support each other, the connection leaves the relationship. Without connection, the aliveness and passion dwindle. Sex becomes boring without emotional intimacy.
Emotional intimacy generates connection, which generates the free flow of energy, resulting in fun. We have fun with each other when we feel close, connected and safe. Laughter flows freely when partners and others feel the deep safety and connection that is created by emotional intimacy. Fun and laughter not only generate more emotional intimacy and connection; they also enhance the immune system. Health and loving relationships are wonderful byproducts of emotional intimacy.
5. Creativity and new learning
As I stated above, emotional intimacy generates the free flow of energy within us, which allows us to tap into our natural creativity. The safety of emotional intimacy creates the container we need to continue to learn, grow and create.
Emotional intimacy and the resulting relationship connections are vital for life to have true meaning. Without emotional intimacy, we have no arena in which to share love, and there is no doubt that the sharing of love is the most glorious experience in life.
Rosetans die of old age because they are happy, and they are happy because they feel safe and connected with each other. We have much to learn from them!
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