Nowadays more and more people are becoming very active in social media and interested in virtual relations. But the face to face contacts and real personal relations are in decline. Overt involvement in social media, really, reduces the time for face to face contacts and conversations. Several studies warn that the contacts through the social media and hollow virtual relations cannot be a substitute for genuine human interactions which have far more cognitive and emotional benefits. People mainly use these social network sites to display their inflated ego and project their achievements for the purpose of glorifying themselves to the maximum level. Addiction to social media and virtual relations has become a real threat to the warm and live relationships, even within the family.
A good number of modern scientific studies reveal that people who are intimately connected to others, be it family, friends or colleagues, live a healthier, happier and longer life. So physicians are advising people to invest in building strong and intimate social connections and to have frequent face to face interactions.
The Psychology of Social Connection
It was centuries ago that the great Greek Philosopher, Aristotle strongly asserted; ‘Man is by nature a social animal’. According to the need theory of the famous psychologist Abraham Maslow, the most prominent human need after physiological and safety needs is the social need or the deep sense of love and belonging. The human brain is hardwired to love and to be loved. We cannot live in lone islands. We have a strong need to be recognized and acknowledged by others. Facebook and WhatsApp cannot be a substitute for genuine human contacts. Basically, the sense of social relations is one of the strongest and fundamental human needs. Actually, the tendency for socialization and affinity to mingle and interact with our own kind of people is embedded in our DNA. Why talk about humans alone, almost all living organisms have a tendency to flock together and to share and care for each other.
It has been scientifically proven that during your interactions with others a lot of positive emotions like love, empathy, sense of belonging etc are aroused. Sharing a hearty laugh with your friends unleashes a flood of endorphins in your brain and consequently reduces your stress considerably and brightens up your mood immediately.
Boosting brain health
Researchers have found that social connections and activities have a great impact on your brain health. Wider social relations can help to prevent neurodegenerative diseases. People who are socially isolated have a greater risk of developing dementia than those who are socially integrated. During social interactions, people get ample opportunity for communication, critical thought, emotional expression, mutual care, and creativity. When you engage in a conversation with another, new neural linkages and pathways are developed in your brain and that is very important for up keeping brain’s capabilities and health. People who lack social connections are more vulnerable to mental problems like anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies etc.
According to Robert Waldinger, the famous Harvard psychiatrist, and researcher, staying connected and involved, is actually an important prescription for mental health.
The secret of longevity in the Blue Zones
Dan Beutner, who conducted detailed studies regarding the secrets of longevity and super health in different regions, known as blue zones where people lived longest with extraordinary health and vigor, revealed the amazing health secrets in his bestselling book; The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who Lived Longest. Sardinia in Italy was at the top where the maximum number of centenarians lived with super health, followed by Okinawa in Japan. Loma Linda (California), Nicoya, (Costa Rica) and Icaria (Greece) were the other places identified as blue zones. Beutner and team tried to find out the top secrets of longevity of the blue zone people. According to Beutner, the most important common factor was their strong and intimate social connections. They all go out of their houses for work and for meeting people. They love and help each other and play together. It was this social factor that contributed a lot to their extraordinary health and longevity.
There are many other examples also. Hanza people in the Himalayas, living in an extremely secluded region of the world are also famous for unusual health and longevity. They practice simple lifestyle habits which allow them to be socially active and connected. Their strong social connections and mentality for mutual help are considered to be among the top contributing factors for their perpetual youthfulness.
The Bapan village in China is popularly known as longevity village. Dr. John Day who conducted detailed studies about the secrets of longevity in Bapan village says that it is their social connectivity that matters a lot. They all are connected to nature, to the family, friends, and community. Elders have more social connections and they live with their children and grandchildren.
Strengthening the Immune System
Dr. Steve Cole, Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences in the UCLA School of medicine found in his long research that social connection strengthens our immune system, helps us recover from diseases faster and live longer. Social isolation was seen to cause the decline of physical, psychological and emotional health and the incidence of antisocial behavior. People with wide social connections were found to have lower rates of anxiety and stress. They even showed more sympathy to others and possessed high self-esteem and confidence.
Hearty Friendships for Healthy Heart
Harvard University researchers have found that good friendships and strong family relations can enhance your cardiac health. Research by David K. Kim and colleagues found that the level of fibrinogen, a protein in the blood which helps to clot, increases in the lonely individuals and causes blockage in the blood vessels by depositing fat inside. The fibrinogen level in the individuals with more number of social connections and friendships was much lower, showing better cardiac health.
Speedy recovery from cancer
Studies show that the warmth of friendship can even help a lot in the recovery of cancer patients. A 2006 study of nearly 3000 nurses with breast cancer found that the survival rate of women with ten or more friends was four times the survival rate of women without close friends.
Reduces suicidal tendency
Studies also indicate that friendships and social connections can play a crucial role in protecting a person from suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Social support can help to dispel the darkness of hopelessness and feeling of dejection from the minds of depressed individuals.
How to improve your social connections?
First of all, you have to be aware of the warmth and importance of social connections and friendships in your life. Staying connected is an ideal prescription for your holistic health and happiness. So be prepared to plan whatever you can do for this. The following suggestions can be considered.
- Be more interested in other people, then, they will be interested in your friendship.
- Improve the quality and warmth of existing relationships with family and friends.
- Welcome every opportunity for getting new friends enhancing social connections.
- Show interest for complimenting others generously and genuinely.
- Avoid negative thinking and negative talks. Always be a positive person radiating positive energy.
- Be an empathetic and enthusiastic listener so that others will like your presence and friendship.
- Beware of your body language because your body communicates what is in your mind. Your open posture, pleasing simile, eye contact, head node etc are important in conversations and interactions with others.
- Involve in social activities and cultural events.
- Join a new club or cultural organization so that you can regularly meet others and have new friendships
- Elders can form senior citizens’ club or pensioners’ forum so that they can be in the company of similar people.
- Be active in religious activities and meetings.
- You can also form a small group of close friends with similar interests and have frequent get-together and discussions.
- Be always interested in loving and helping others because this is the secret of strong friendships and genuine happiness.
Remember that your kinship and friendships are your greater asset than your wealth since your happiness and well-being are far more valuable than your material wealth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. JOHN MUZHUTHETTU is a Human Resource Consultant, National Trainer, and Counselor. Formerly he was the Deputy Chief Engineer, Kerala State Electricity Board and is still working as an external faculty of HRD Programmes of KSEB. He is also a faculty of Department of Management Studies, Mar Augusthinose College, Ramapuram, under M.G.University, Kerala. He is the PG course co-ordinator of MHRM.
He is a columnist in several Magazines, like ‘Business Deepika’, ‘Creative Business’, ‘Donbosco’ etc. His articles have been published in many magazines and journals. His several speeches have been aired by All India Radio. His interviews on various subjects have been telecasted by Power Vision TV. He is the author of five best-selling books:
- ‘Stress-Manassasthra- Aathmeeya Pariharangel’. (Current Books, Thrissur) 4th Edition
- Vijayiyude Vyakthithwam (Current Books, Thrissur)
- Jeevitham Santhushtamakan, Nithya Yauvanam Nedan.(CSS, Thiruvalla)2ndEdition
- Emotional Intelligence-Jeevithavijayathinu (CSS, Thiruvalla)
- Vijayarahsyangal (Current Books, Thrissur)
As a trainer, he has conducted more than a thousand seminars and workshops for teachers, parents, students, executives and others, on several subjects like Stress Management, Time Management, Personality Development, Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual intelligence for Excellence, Communicative Skills, Assertiveness, Motivation, Study Skills, Effective Parenting, Counselling Skills etc. He is an external training faculty of Power Engineers Training and Research Centre of KSEB. He is an external faculty of IMG Cochin. He is also the Secretary of Upasana Cultural Centre, Thodupuzha.
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