Dean Clough

March 8, 2023

Portico Darwin: You've Got a Friend


2 Minute Read
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Hello and happy hump day.  While I enjoyed Houston and its rodeo, it is very good to be back home in SF. 

A lot of what I write here is influenced by the podcasts to which I listen, and one of my favorites is Plain Speaking by the thirtysomething genius Derek Thompson.  Recently, he had as guests two academics at Harvard that are continuing an incredible longitudinal study of the health and happiness of Americans.  This study has been going on since 1938 (!) so its conclusions can be treated as fact.  And the fact is this:

People with meaningful relationships with family and friends are not only happier, but also physically healthier.

It's not money, achievement or possessions.  The academics, doctors Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, call it social fitness.  Literally nothing matters more.
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Mr. Thompson then asked the guests:  aren't healthy people happier?  In other words, if one is in shape and feel themselves attractive, they are more likely to go out into society and develop friendships with people in bars, restaurants or church.  And of course:  that's also true.  It's a positive spiral. 

Here is an excerpt from their book, where the authors list the components of social fitness, and questions to ask yourself about your own.

Safety and security:  Who would you call if you woke up scared in the middle of the night?  Who would you turn to in a moment of crisis?

Learning and growth:  Who encourages you to try new things, to take chances, to pursue your life’s goals?

Emotional closeness and confiding:  Who knows everything (or most things) about you?  Who can you call on when you’re feeling low and be honest with about how you’re feeling?

Identity affirmation and shared experience:  Is there someone in your life who has shared many experiences with you and who helps you strengthen your sense of who you are?

Romantic intimacy:  Do you feel satisfied with the amount of romantic intimacy in your life?

Help (both informational and practical):  Who do you turn to if you need some expertise or help solving a practical problem (e.g., planting a tree, fixing your WiFi connection)?

Fun and relaxation:  Who makes you laugh? Who do you call to see a movie or go on a road trip with who makes you feel connected and at ease?

If your answer to the above questions is only "my spouse/partner", you've got some work to do:  this 85 year-long and ongoing study says your lack of social fitness is harming your physical and mental health.  If that's the case, the authors suggest putting down your phone and start volunteering.  Join a sports league, or get into a hobby that involves others.  If it's your thing, visit a church or temple or a mosque.  Or go to a bar, which I've been told are quite sociable places.

But that's not happening, at least not amongst the general US population.  Despite more ways than ever to connect and communicate with friends and family, people have in actuality become far less connected with others.  I find these numbers sad and disturbing - almost 20% of Americans have no or only one close friend?

I believe a toxic stew of enrage-to-engage social media algorithms, increasing isolation (even pre-pandemic), and opioids led to a spike in "deaths of despair".  This is from The Economist; deaths of despair have doubled for middle-aged white people since around 2000 (!).  While their chart focuses on opioids, I say it's no coincidence that deaths of despair also began to increase right around the time Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram arrived, and that's because these platforms wreck social fitness.

So be a friend and have friends.  Your life literally depends upon it.


Major, major congrats to two occasional readers of this blog, Laura Gonzalez and Andrew Whistler.  While we were away in Houston, this lovely couple got engaged.  Andrew had his grandmother's own rings repurposed into a more modern design, and the rest, as they say, is history.   

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.


No, there won't be any maudlin renditions of "You've Got a Friend" by either James Taylor or Carole King.  Instead, here is something much more fun, and a full album to boot:  the funk rock masters War with Why Can't We Be Friends?

About Dean Clough

Plans To Enjoy Life.