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.”