How One Thing Can Bring You a Longer, Happier Life

by on January 25, 2016

social bonds

When it comes to becoming healthier and happier, most folks tend to think of eating right, sleeping more, working harder and getting more exercise. But there’s another key to good health and a longer, happier life. And it’s all about having friends.

Social Isolation Studies

One study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found a definitive link between solid social relationships and good health, using measures such as high blood pressure, BMI, abdominal obesity and inflammation. Specifically, the study discovered social isolation can trigger certain biological mechanisms that result in:

  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Stroke
  • Cancer

Various studies conducted by neuroscientist and psychologist John Cacioppo also uncovered a number of detrimental effects of social isolation. He found perceived loneliness was linked to the infamous stress hormone cortisol, inflammation of the body, and hardening of the arteries, which can result in high blood pressure.

Loneliness is also associated with a decrease in the cognitive abilities of planning, execution, reasoning, working memory, flexibility and problem solving.

Additional research over the years has repeatedly suggested that older adults live longer lives if they enjoy strong social connections, while the recent study points out the same holds true for adolescents and adults of any age.

Happiness Study

And then there are the results of the longest study on happiness that’s ever been undertaken. Officially dubbed The Harvard Study of Adult Development, researchers began annually tracking the lives 724 men in 1938.

Roughly 60 of the original men are still alive and participating in the study, with most of them now in their 90s. Participants were from two groups. The first were initially Harvard College students who graduated, with most of them heading off to World War II. The second were teens from Boston’s most impoverished neighborhoods that ended up in all walks of life, both successful and worse off than when they started.

Year after year, researchers would go visit the men, interviewing them at home, obtaining medical records, scanning their brains, drawing their blood and talking to their wives and children. And the greatest thing researchers learned from the 75-year study can be boiled down to a single lesson shared by Robert Waldinger, the study’s current and fourth director. He said:

“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

Waldinger noted that social connections are extremely beneficial to both our physical and mental well-being – while loneliness kills.

Those who are more social connected to friends, family and community are:

  • Happier
  • Physically healthier
  • Prone to living longer than their less-connected counterparts

Those who are most isolated than they wish to be are:

  • Less happy
  • Prone to declining health and brain functioning earlier in their lives
  • At risk of dying sooner with shorter lifespans than their well-connected counterparts

In addition to helping you live a longer, healthier and happier life, strong social bonds can help with driving fears, phobias and driving anxiety. Sharing your driving anxiety or driving fears with a trusted friend or family member can help to alleviate some of the internal anguish. And it’s always beneficial to have a shoulder to lean on when that’s exactly what you need.

SOURCES:

Photo Credit: i be GINZ via Compfight cc

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