Humans are social creatures. Whether or not we like to admit it, we literally need other humans to survive. From the moment we’re born, our survival is linked to our connections with others. The way we grow, develop and learn are all filtered through the values and influences of our family, friends and the social world around us.
Even those of us who tend to lean towards being more independent or introverted still need a helping hand sometimes, a kind word now and then and some affection here and there. It’s not just for basic survival; your need for others is directly linked to your quality and length of life as well.
THE ROSETO EFFECT
If you want proof that humans are wired for social connection, ironically, all you have to do is look to your computer. The Internet’s most popular websites are social networks that allow us to connect with family and friends all over the globe. Services like Skype take networking to the next level by allowing us to have face-to-face conversations with people half a world away.
Out in the physical world, the importance of socializing for our health, happiness and longevity has been studied for decades. In what has been called The Roseto Effect, researchers have kept tabs on a close-knit community of Italian-Americans in Roseto, Pennsylvania who seem to defy the odds by living longer, healthier lives than average Americans.
It was more than thirty years ago when researchers first became baffled by a phenomenon that defied all medical logic. The citizens of Roseto had half the heart attack death rate compared to the rest of the United States. Scientists were fascinated and began decades of research into the phenomenon.
It wasn’t a diet or an overly active lifestyle that was creating this effect. The researchers found that the eating habits and exercise practices of Roseto residents were no different from any other blue-collar American town. The men of Roseto smoked like chimneys and drank wine freely. Their diets were full of modernized Italian cuisine, eaten in large quantities. So, what was different about the people of Roseto, Pennsylvania?
Socialization, networking and a neighborly atmosphere on a scale that would even impress Mr. Rogers.
Roseto was an incredibly close-knit community. They dined together, celebrated together and came together to help out when a neighbor was in need. The elderly weren’t sent away, but taken care of and kept close. Nearly every home had three generations living under the same roof. As a group they enjoyed many communal rituals, such as social clubs, evening strolls and church festivals. These all somehow combined to bring good health, happiness and longevity to the people of Roseto.
POWER OF THE CLAN
The Power of the Clan is a report on the Roseto Effect by physician Stewart Wolf and sociologist John Bruhn. Their study covered the period of 1935 to 1984. The report highlights the fact that when a community bonds together, it actually contributes to the health and wellness of the people in that community. On the flip side, a lack of concern and disconnection between residents can have the opposite effect.
“We looked at the social structure of healthy communities,” Wolf said, “and found that they are characterized by stability and predictability. In those communities, each person has a clearly defined role in the social scheme.”
There’s no doubt that socializing makes us feel good. Whether it’s chatting with the person next to you in line at the store, making new contacts at work or being with family and friends, we are stimulated in ways that make us happy when we connect with others. In fact, it’s instrumental to our emotional well-being.
According to the Gallup-Healthways Happiness-Stress Index study, we are at our happiest when we spend time socializing. Over 140,000 Americans were surveyed and it was found that those with the lowest scores on the Happiness-Stress index tended to be at home all day and had zero hours of social time. The opposite was true for those who devoted spending large amounts of time with others, the ratio rising with each hour of socialization.
THE ANTIDOTE TO STRESS
If you’re wondering how this works, it all begins with stress. When your stress levels are high, your levels of the hormone cortisol rise. That can lead to a rise in blood pressure and a destabilization of your immune system. Constant stress leads to all kinds of issues, from heart disease to other illnesses that find their way in due to a compromised system.
According to Shelley Taylor, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, there is a cure for high-stress levels that can ultimately lead you to a longer, healthier life. “(Social contact with others) has effects on the body that are more powerful than cigarette smoking and your cholesterol level,” said Taylor. “The magnitude is very strong.”
This is the answer that surprised researchers many decades ago in Roseto. Socialization is key to your ultimate health. It cuts down on the amount of stress you carry around in your body, which has a direct impact on your overall health. If increased socialization impacts your health with the same as magnitude smoking, it’s no wonder the people of Roseto had fewer heart attack deaths than the rest of the country.
We all know that exercise and a proper diet are important for our health, but the evidence here reveals that having an active social life can offer equivalent results for your well-being. While times have changed and gadgets can make it hard to feel like actively socializing, you can take steps to become more connected. Put away the cellphone at dinner. Have more family time; plan game nights for example. Invite the neighbors over. Eat lunch with a coworker instead of at your desk, staring at a screen. Expand your network. Soon, you might just find yourself living a longer, more fulfilled life.
An active social life isn’t the only thing that can help you live longer with less stress… Sleep is fundamental to good health, happy living and longevity. Check our new book Sleeping Without Pills to discover more about the importance of natural, restorative sleep.