Maria Shriver, AARP, January 2014
Kwaku Alston/Corbis via Getty Images
Kwaku Alston/Corbis via Getty Images
Lifestyle

Maria Shriver On The Importance Of Girlfriends

And the greatest gift we can give each other.

You may know her as part of the Kennedy family, or as the former first lady of California, or as a reporter on NBC. But one of her favorite roles is as a writer. From self-help guides to children’s books, her goal is to connect, inform and create change where it’s needed. The Sunday Paper is Shriver’s weekly digital newsletter that she hopes will “inspire readers to live a more meaningful life and move humanity forward.”

What advice do you have for women who are looking to create “a meaningful life”?

A meaningful life looks different to everyone, but for me it’s one that consists of having a sense of purpose, having a faith in a higher power, and having a strong community of family and friends. I think everyone should take the time to pause and ask themselves, “What does a meaningful life look like to me?” That’s what I try to do each week when I sit down to write my essay for the Sunday Paper.

What are some of the things you try to incorporate into each newsletter?

Each week, I write an original essay called “I’ve Been Thinking …” We share a collection of others voices and news stories that inform and inspire you to live a more meaningful life. The Sunday Paper has an impressive list of columnists and regular contributors — including Martha Beck; Jack Kornfield; Sara Gottfried, M.D.; my brother Timothy Shriver; and more — whose mission is to share smart, thought-provoking perspectives about the world we live in today and how we can make a difference together.

In addition to news and views, we also share a recipe for your Sunday dinner each week, because I strongly believe in the power of gathering together for a shared meal. The conversation and the connection that happens around one’s kitchen table can change lives.

We also share a reflection or poem each week because both are part of my path to a meaningful life. In fact, I even write my own poetry.

What are some of the most valuable lessons in life you’ve learned so far — and what are you still working on?

I’ve learned so much over the years as my life has grown and evolved. That’s really what I love about getting older. I’m not the same person in my 60s that I was in my 30s. Why would I want to be?

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned — and it’s one I wish I had learned sooner — is to care for my holistic health. I wasn’t raised learning about nutrition, meditation or self-care, for instance. I also never heard anything about caring for my brain health, which is important since women are at an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease and also because the disease starts to form in the brain in your 30s and 40s.

These days, health is my top priority. That’s why I’m out there advocating for women’s brain health and also for wiping out Alzheimer’s. I started my nonprofit The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement because I’m on a mission to understand why two-thirds of all the individuals with Alzheimer’s are women, and also to educate us all on how we can better care for our brain health. It’s never too early to begin, and I wish I had started sooner.

Why is it so important that women talk about their health as they age and what would you go back and tell your 40s self with regard to this?

I think it’s important for perimenopausal women to make their symptoms known, in part, because no one’s really talking about it. This is an issue affecting women everywhere, and yet for decades we’ve all gone through this without feeling like we’ve had any sense of support or knowledge about how to navigate it. I wish I had had a conversation about hormones way earlier in my life. I wish I had focused on the overall idea of women’s health in my 40s. I didn’t know anything about perimenopause or menopause at that time, and I think that’s because no one had the courage to speak up.

How important are girlfriends as you age?

Friendships are critical. I wrote an essay for the Sunday Paper just a few weeks ago about a few of my childhood friends who came to California to visit me and how meaningful that was. Friendship isn’t just about having someone to keep you company. It’s about having people who know you, who challenge you, and who love you no matter what. Connection is vital to our well-being, and it’s one of the greatest gifts we can give each other.

One of my favorite things to do with my friends is to gather them together at my house for Sunday dinners. I invite someone new to my kitchen table each week and use it as an opportunity to have meaningful conversations with those I love or want to get to know better. Gathering for a meal, or even for just a coffee, is one of the simplest and most effective ways to spend time with someone you love.

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Maria Shriver, AARP, January 2014
Kwaku Alston/Corbis via Getty Images