Matters of the Heart
‘No man is an island, entire unto himself’. John Donne, 1624
Home to both Valentine’s Day and Family Day, February is a time where we celebrate all things love.
Love is the one thing that we all as humans are connected with in the world – it is a thing that we all seek, share, and feel. At the same time, it is the one thing that leaves us mystified for its power and its impact is often beyond measure.
Love is not just about romance between two people and the associated trappings such as flowers and chocolate; it is much more than that – it is about connection. Whether it’s between two people, a parent and their child or among members of a shared community, love has proven to contribute to happier and healthier states of being.
One of the most remarkable studies exploring the influence of love and social connectedness conducted by Dr. Lisa Berkman beginning of 1965.
Dr. Berkman led an intensive study over nine years which included 7,000 men and women in the United States. The results of her study demonstrate the overwhelming impact of community on the health of the study’s subjects. It was found that subjects who had strong social ties lived longer than their less-social counterparts; in fact, those subjects with weak social ties were three times more likely to die during the nine year study than their more social counterparts. The kind of social ties did not seem to matter – what mattered was being an active member in some kind of social network, whether it be the traditional marriage, family, sports team, church group, or volunteer group.
Also interesting to note, a healthier lifestyle did not trump strong social ties when it came to longevity. “What astounded researchers the most about this study was that those with close social ties and unhealthy lifestyles (such as smoking, obesity and lack of exercise) actually lived longer than those with poor social ties but more healthful living habits. Needless to say, people with both healthful lifestyles and close social ties lived the longest of all.”
Another related study in Sweden showed a similar result: “when seventeen thousand people in Sweden, for example were examined and followed, it was found that those who were the most lonely and isolated at the beginning of the study had nearly four times the risk of dying prematurely in the ensuing six years.”
We all know one can be a lonely number, but these studies show the serious impact of weak social ties and loneliness can have on our overall wellbeing – they provide compelling scientific evidence the healing powers of friendship, love and positive relationships.
Our care and compassion for others often makes a huge difference much more than we realize. Relationships and strong community ties that help you feel acknowledged, safe, and loved are no doubt a great boon to your health.
It is never too late nor difficult to strengthen your social ties. Whether it be reacquainting with your family, taking more time to spend with your children or regularly volunteering, the options and opportunities are endless. The power of love and social ties has proven time and time again to be what humans need to thrive. It may sound cliché, but “love is all you need.”
For me, volunteering has been an impactful way I have built my own personal social network throughout the years. Here are my top suggestions to give your time and grow your community, and live a happier, healthier, and loved life:
- Sports: if you have played a team sport in your youth, it is never too late to join an amateur team. Not only will this be good for your health but it will be an excellent way to have consistent social interaction. If you cannot physically play a sport, you can also volunteer as a coach. Coaching is a great way to inspire and motivate people to do their best.
- Meetup: There are countless Meetup groups online. The objective of these groups is to bring together people in person who share an interest. From knitting, to politics, music, business, you name it, there is a Meetup group for it. To find Meetup groups in your community, visit www.meetup.com
- Seva: Seva means “selfless service” and “service above self” in Sanskrit. Essentially, seva is a concept in which you perform volunteer work without any expectations. Whether you volunteer with a food bank, soup kitchen or any other volunteer group, by performing seva you are doing good and helping your local community. This very action helps you give and receive love without any cost
- Pay it Forward: relate it to seva, paying it forward is the act of doing something without any expectation or any other reason but to make someone happy and perhaps encourage them to “pay it forward” and brighten someone else’s day. Some ways you can pay it forward is to simply buy a stranger a cup of coffee, donate your time to a worthy cause, or help an elderly person with their weekly grocery shopping. The options are endless and the feeling of gratitude and positivity that results from it are too.
- Make time for family and friends: in today’s fast-paced society, it can be difficult to achieve balance and make time for the meaningful relationships in your life. But as the studies I highlighted here show, they have an undeniable impact on your overall well-being and health. Make sure you make these meaningful relationships one of you top priorities.
Wharton Professor Adam Grant’s book Give & Take, shows that the most successful people in the workplace tend to be the ones that give selflessly to others without expectation of returned favors.
Wishing you and your loved ones, a happy, healthy and loved-filled February. Remember to connect with others and make time for the people that matter.