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Why We Need Our Neighbors

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Why We Need Our Neighbors

By Jon Spayde, Experience Life

A strong sense of community adds real value to our lives. It not only helps us feel more connected to the world around us, it also makes a measurable difference in our happiness — and our health.

We Americans love our independence — sometimes to the point of dangerous isolation. In a now-classic study of 6,928 adults living in Alameda County, Calif., conducted by Harvard researcher Lisa Berkman, PhD, and University of California, Berkeley, researcher S. Leonard Syme, PhD., people with few social ties were two to three times more likely to die of all causes than people with wider and closer relationships.

Even after controlling for age and health practices, including exercise, smoking, drinking and the use of medical services, Berkman and Syme’s study, first published in 1979, found that the basic relationship between isolation and mortality persisted. What’s more, the study showed that a dearth of social support could increase the likelihood of depression and cognitive decline in older people.

In his book Social Intelligence: The Science of Human Relationships (Bantam, 2006), Harvard PhD and longtime New York Times brain-and-behavioral-science reporter Daniel Goleman outlines the neuroscientific evidence that we are “wired to connect.” Goleman cites the research of Sheldon Cohen, PhD, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, who exposed study volunteers to the virus that causes the common cold and then subjected them to a five-day quarantine in which they were housed individually, but allowed to interact with one another from at least three feet apart. “Compared to those with a rich web of social connections, those with the fewest close relationships were 4.2 times more likely to come down with the cold, making loneliness riskier than smoking,” Goleman notes.

“Vibrant social connections boost our good moods and limit our negative ones, suppressing cortisol and enhancing immune function under stress,” he explains. “Relationships themselves seem to protect us from the risk of exposure to the very cold virus they pose.”

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Megan, selected from Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.

90 comments

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11:18AM PST on Jan 11, 2012

I've never known any of my neighbors, never played with kids in my neighborhood either. My parents built a giant wall surrounding the house so I never really left home as a kid. I wish I did live in an area where the community was united.

8:12PM PST on Nov 14, 2011

i remember when a whole town was our neighbors. now is so different.

2:37PM PDT on Aug 1, 2010

We live out in the country and most of our neighbors are pretty far away from our house. We all pitch in when something needs to get done, plowing roads full of snow for an example. Every trades food during the holidays and every once in a while we all get together at someone's house for an ice cream social. home theater seating

9:26PM PDT on May 18, 2010

Why we need them? Basically because "no man is an island". We can't live alone. Therefore as a social being we need neighbors to deal with. They may not live up to our expectations but at least they are there to give colors to our lives.Thanks!

3:32PM PDT on Mar 14, 2010

I love your article because it specifially addresses and calls attention to a very important topic: isolated populations. I think more discussion on this topic needs to happen and especially in households across the country. What is being done to create a support network in local communities to mobilize action and inform families about this issue? How can we as individuals contribute our effort to the solutions that will solve this problem?

Please visit my site and read my blogs on family projects and more.
Read my blogs for more ideas:
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2:30AM PST on Mar 5, 2010

Any person could greatly benefit from having a good neighbor. They are not only there to hand you a cup of sugar when you need one. They are contributing factors in making a livable, secured and enjoyable place for living.
acekard 2

7:08PM PST on Feb 27, 2010

to busy anymore to be real neighbors.

9:04AM PST on Feb 24, 2010

neighbor's are not like they use to be, every one is just to busy with life to slow down and meet people

5:17AM PST on Feb 22, 2010

Thanks Jon for this new to me info about isolation and shortening your life. 'Community' is a major step towards peace. I read, "Community Making and Peace", by, I forget his name and my books are in boxes!, but it was way ahead of it's time.

This was years ago, and even then his idea was that by developing smaller, self-contained communities where everyone was involved with each other, and the running of their center, it produced more caring people, doing more for the environment and the world. Eventually this would lead to world peace. That's pretty simplistic, but what I remember from the book.

It makes sense that having everyone involved with how their town develops, this would solve a lot of problems, and yet, I think we're a long way from it!! Although, we're much, much closer, with a lot more people caring, than we were 25 years ago. With world knowledge increasing at such a rapid pace, and so many of us evolving, it is possible that this will happen a lot sooner than most would suspect.

1:56PM PST on Feb 21, 2010

It does make all the difference on how you feel about where you live,I agree.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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