The NPR story on the Art of Aging marks another rung on my ladder of Making Love Sustainable. According to Dr. Sherwin Nuland, a professor at Yale University’s Medical School, the three most important factors to graceful aging are: a consistent exercise program, tapping into creative impulses, and sustaining the intimate relationships that make life meaningful.

Nuland admitted he used to focus too much on physical health as the key to productive old age. “I was going on about the importance of musculo-skeletal strength, and exercise, and (my colleague Dr. Leo Cooney) said, ‘You know, Shep, it’s not the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail is something else, and what is it? Relationships. He even goes on to say in his interview that if given a choice between the three, choose the connection that comes from relationships every time. There is no better cure than feeling loved in this world. As we age, finding meaningful ways to give of ourselves is one of the most powerful ways we have of loving ourselves.

Cultivating relationships that keep your heart young is the key, which explains why I enjoy driving my teenage son’s buddies around town. They make me laugh and ask me all kinds of questions that “rock my world” as they would say. Listening to their conversation and occasionally being invited in has given me the opportunity to witness and share an experience that I might otherwise judge, because hanging around insolent teenagers can make even the most confident adult feel weak in the knees.

Tending our relationships and keeping them vital is the most challenging work that we do. Certainly the statistics of the growing population of people who live alone and are not in committed relationships attests to this challenge. Many times I wonder if my insistence on sustainable love is realistic or even necessary in this life- my voice feels small in the face of all the leaving that I see all around me. Still here it is, a Yale physician supporting my claim that the key to sustaining a happy life is learning to appreciate and deepen the relationships that make life meaningful. So I am gratified tonight. What keeps your relationships strong?