Human beings are wired to connect with each other and our wellbeing depends on it. According to scientist Scientist Matthew Lieberman, who studies the neuroscience of human connections, we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.
In 1938, Harvard initiated a longitudinal study with 268 subjects in an attempt to understand what are the elements which make up for a healthy and happy life. The study has been ongoing for 80 years and it has proved that embracing community helps us live longer, and happier lives.
“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships have a powerful influence on our health,” - says Robert Waldinger, director of social connection, happiness and health study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Various studies prove those with fewer social connections had a higher cognitive and physical decline rate than those with an active social circle.
Maintaining long-lasting friendships throughout life has led to a 70% reduced risk of experiencing dementia. Being surrounded by positive relationships also slows cognitive decline; 80-year-olds who are socially connected presented the same cognitive abilities as people in their 50s or 60s.
Individuals with healthy, close connections also had better memory recall and concentration. They are also able to maintain a more positive outlook on life.
Socially connected individuals who experience positive relationships are happier and live on average longer than those with limited social connections or experiencing unhealthy relationships. In addition, individuals who do not enjoy close relationships struggle more with depression and anxiety.
The Harvard study demonstrated genetics are less important to longevity than the level of satisfaction with relationships in midlife, which is now recognised as a good predictor of healthy ageing.
Loneliness generates high-stress levels. Stress has various adverse effects on our bodies, including increased cortisol levels and inflammation, leading to anxiety, depression, obesity, heart, autoimmune diseases and multiple other chronic diseases. In general, those who have close relationships experience significantly less stress than those who are lonely and are healthier in the long term.
If you want to cultivate healthy habits, the first place to start is often those you surround yourself with. The connections around us help dictate our habits; therefore, if you have friends that love exercising, it will be easier to build a healthy routine with them!
The key is to surround yourself with people who will help you reach your personal goals and share the same interests and beliefs.
From all this, there’s one thing that’s for sure, positive connections and valued relationships make us happier throughout our life. Happiness is a medicine that keeps us motivated, improves our outlooks, and drives us to be the best version of ourselves, all factors that can help us live healthier and even longer lives.
When these positive connections surround us, we never feel alone. Instead, we feel supported, loved, and enjoy more of what life has to offer, which positively affects various aspects of health, whether mental or physical.
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