Being social is good for us!
Do you find yourself getting sick more when you see your mates less? Did you know your sickness could be due to the lack of social interactions? What many people fail to realise is that our health directly reflects the health of our peers. Emile Durkheim was one of the first sociologists to draw the correlation between social networks and support as direct determinants of our health. Due to his contributions, he is coined to be the “principal architect of modern social science” (National Academy of Sciences, 2006). He was able to determine that the extent, strength, and quality of our relationships affected the illnesses we would develop and our life expectancy. His research of relationships also relates to the longest study ever conducted by Harvard which focuses what makes us happy. The Harvard study draws focus to us as social beings, needing human contact to benefit our happiness and optimal health (Harvard Gazette, 2018).
Believe it or not, our society is one that functions on the principle of social interactions and relationship development. We are apart of a community that needs social connections to find purpose in life. Human interaction can be separated into two groups, social networks, and social support. Social networks are the number of people we are connected to, how closely connected we are and the principal we are connected by. For example, you are connected to people at your job because you see them every day and work with them. Social Support is the type of assistance you get or gain from your social network. This group can be broken down into three subcategories, Instrumental support (monetary gifts or labor support), Emotional support (intangible support through feeling loved or cared for) and Informational support (support received in the form of information giving, such as tips and tricks). Through social support, we determine how we will go about maintaining our health and the standards in which we live. As tested in the Harvard study, the healthiest and overall performance of health is related to our social interactions and the level of “happiness” we acquire(Harvard Gazette, 2018). For instance, if you live an unhappy or lack consistent happiness stimulus in life you are more likely to acquire more health problems and a loss in overall health and vice versa.
When you assess the health of an individual, you can begin by looking into their social networks. Do they have social support? Is their network close-knit or spaced out? Do they see their network regularly? Is their network generating positive or negative feedback? For many of these questions, scientists have been able to link the health outcomes of people based on their relationships. For example, if you have connections with a group of runners who love going for morning jogs, they will probably rave about their runs and how you should join them. You eventually will become convinced whether by desire or peer pressure to run and gain acceptance in this space focused on health improvement, ultimately joining their morning jogs. The Harvard study also expands on the positive ties we have to one another help to protect us from “life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.” (The Harvard Gazette, 2017). It isn’t the physical act of being happy but rather the effect it has on the brain and the brain’s desire to improve our physical health once our mental health is improved.
Just as easy as it is to join a friend in their health ventures, it is easy to damage your health. This damage could come from entering into social group activities that promote activities such as smoking or drinking. Although both of these substances are used for social enjoyment, they also come with highly addictive qualities which can cause self-reliance. For instance, many people begin addictions to nicotine by being introduced to cigarettes in a social setting. Another major illness that is a cause of social networks is Depression. This mental health illness is caused by a variety of conditions; however, depression begins for many people through the reluctance of social connections or the loss of social networks. When an individual starts to lose the social support of others, it can cause a change in their connectedness, resulting in a feeling of loneliness.
Ultimately, although not commonly viewed as a determining factor, our social connections directly affect the level of health we will acquire. When you surround yourself in positive and healthy groups, your social capital grows. However, your health can also be affected negatively through the exchange of unhealthy habits and advice. As this winter season, approaches take the time to evaluate your social connections as a way to declutter and boost your chances of living a healthier life. Whether that be joining a new sports club or creating a neighbourhood book club, expand your horizons of relationships.
If you would like an individualised, holistic health assessment, including your relationships and their effect on your health, feel free to book a consultation with me&my wellness.
Written by Jasia Robinson
Photo by Phil Coffman
“WHO | The Determinants Of Health”. Who.Int, 2019, https://www.who.int/hia/evidence/doh/en/.
Hernandez, Lyla et al. “The Impact Of Social And Cultural Environment On Health”. Ncbi.Nlm.Nih.Gov, 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19924/.
Mineo, Liz. “Over Nearly 80 Years, Harvard Study Has Been Showing How to Live a Healthy and Happy Life.” Harvard Gazette, Harvard Gazette, 26 Nov. 2018, news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/.