Humans are ultra-social species. It’s our nature, and we can’t live our lives without social interactions.
Social connections are one of the most important factors for people’s health and happiness. The harvard study for adult development is the longest study ever done on human development. It started tracking harvard graduates in 1932 (and tracks survivors and decedents until today) to understand the factors that lead to happy and healthy lives. The conclusion? Those who kept warm relationships got to live longer and happier lives, and the loners often died earlier. Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study concluded.
The study showed that the role of genetics and long-lived ancestors proved less important to longevity than the level of satisfaction with relationships in midlife, now widely recognized as a good predictor of healthy aging.
Those relationships protect people from life’s hard times, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class or IQ.
Julianne Holt-Lunstad at Utah's Brigham Young University reviewed 148 studies (more than 300,000 participants) to determine the main factors behind a healthy and happy life. She reviewed lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking, nutrition, exercise, environment and drugs usage but also social aspects such as marital status, income, and relationship with friends.
Social factors related to relationships were the strongest predictors of longevity. Scoring high in these aspects increased the chances of surviving by 50%. Loneliness was the most detrimental aspect related to longevity. Only smoking had an similar negative effect when compared to loneliness.
Dan Buettner studied the communities in the world where people live the longest, the so called “blue zones”. He found out that all the 6 blue zones had an amazing close community support network. In Okinawa, Japan he found the “Moais”. Moais are social support groups that form in order to provide varying support from social, financial, health, or spiritual interests.
“People who are chronically lacking in social contacts are more likely to experience elevated levels of stress and inflammation. These, in turn, can undermine the well-being of nearly every bodily system, including the brain,” writes Jane E. Brody of The New York Times.
Studies show that when people feel lonelier they have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And that type of chronic stress raises the risk of heart disease and other health challenges, according to Emiliana Simon-Thomas from Berkeley.
A 2018 Gallup poll found that those who have a best friend at work are twice as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher-quality work, have a greater sense of well-being, and are less likely to get injured on the job.
Close friendships will make you live happier and longer in life and at work but you need to nurture them early on. Your children will not become your best friends when they 30, your parents will not wait to die until you have time for them, your best friends will not be there for you tomorrow if you are not there for them today. Having a good relationship with the ones that you love will keep you alive. As the old song says, we can all get by with a little help from our friends.