I’m only as good as the people that I am connected to.
- Theo Rossi
Lydia Denworth, science journalist, recently wrote a book title “Friendship.” She discusses the importance of how close personal relationships (strong social bonds) promote healthier living.
Highlights from her research:
a. Key to having strong social bonds starts by making close personal relationships a priority.
Friendships tend to be the first thing we neglect because we are too busy with things like work or even with being a serial dater (someone who spends time meeting new people on dating apps) (Renken, 2020).
b. On average, people have four very close relationships. When made a priority, these bonds positively influence your immune system and cardiovascular health. Strong social bonds include romantic partners, family members, relatives, and friends. It doesn’t matter who, just as long as the relationships make you feel good, it’s positive, has elements of cooperation and reciprocity, and it’s a stable and lasting (Renken, 2020).
c. As humans, we are social by nature. As social beings, we have an innate desire to feel like we belong to a group and feel safe when we are socially accepted by others (Wachob, 2020).
d. These bonds start as early as middle school. If you have kids, remember that it’s important for your kids to find that time to bond with their friends as well (Wachob, 2020).
e. Denworth states, “With friends our attention becomes focused, distractions lessen, awareness of time disappears: We emerge into a world in which the intimacy and joy shared with others is the fundamental reality, and for a time the world becomes a different place.” (Denworth, 2020)
f. Being in the presence of others as you watch a movie, play board games, or play video games together it’s still times spent bonding and socially connecting (Denworth, 2020).
g. In the end, remember to invest the time and energy on a weekly basis to make your friendships a priority!
So why the argument for Survival of the Friendliest over Survival of the Fittest?
The following information is from the MIT Knight Science Journalism Program (Fritts, 2020)
As long-term studies of animal behavior became more common, Denworth explained, researchers began to notice that a wide range of species — from zebras to zebrafish — appeared to spend more time with certain members of their group. In other words, they were forming friendships. And the number and quality of these friendships could strongly impact an individual’s odds of survival. A study of female baboons published about 20 years ago, for instance, found that social bonds appeared to matter even more to an individual’s health than its place in the group hierarchy. The females with the strongest social bonds lived longer and had healthier babies. “So at the same time as there’s what you traditionally think of as survival of the fittest, there was also survival of the friendliest,” Denworth said.
Humans, it turns out, are no different. Denworth described recent research revealing connections between the quality of our social bonds and a laundry list of health factors. Strong friendships seemed to improve cardiovascular function and sleep, boost resilience to viruses, and slow cellular aging. A 1988 meta-analysis of six long-term studies found that loneliness was as damaging to subjects’ health as smoking. Friendship, Denworth said, is “a matter of life and death.”
And the nature of friendship changes as we age. Denworth explained that while teenagers spend 30 percent of their time with friends, adults allocate just four percent of their time to these relationships. But the bonds remain important throughout our lives, even as it becomes more challenging to maintain them. Denworth cited research showing that a person’s satisfaction with their relationships at 50 is the best predictor for their health and happiness at age 80.
Denworth’s advice? Be deliberate about maintaining friendships, even in adulthood. Although life can get busy with work, romantic relationships, and raising children, she argues it would be a mistake to wait until retirement to have a social life. “That’s kind of like waiting to quit smoking when you’re 65,” Denworth said. “If you smoke from 16 to 65, the damage will have been done.”
Denworth, L. (2020, February 27). How Many Hours Does It Take To Create A Lasting Friendship? Retrieved May 11, 2020, from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/exactly-how-many-hours-it-takes-to-create-lasting-friendship
Fritts, R. (2020, February 27). Author Lydia Denworth Makes a Scientific Case for Friendship. Retrieved May 11, 2020, from https://ksj.mit.edu/dispatches/2020/02/28/lydia-denworth-seminar/
Renken, E. (2020, February 22). Survival Of The Friendliest: How Our Close Friendships Help Us Thrive. Retrieved May 11, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/02/22/807742275/survival-of-the-friendliest-how-our-close-friendships-help-us-thrive
Wachob, J. (2020, March 16). The Health Benefits Of Friendship In A Time Of Social Distancing. Retrieved May 11, 2020, from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/importance-of-friendship-in-time-of-social-distancing