April 11, 2012
"Well-being" is "the condition of being healthy, happy, and comfortable ...." according to Wordsmyth.com. Bottom line, it's how you see and feel about your life.
Many things play a part in our well-being. There are the basics like food, shelter, and health. And then there are the less-concrete things: our relationships with others, feeling like we have value, or feeling like our lives have meaning.
It's easy to think that as long as peoples' basic needs are met, everything else is just sugar on top. But for a long time some have believed there has to be a link between our well-being and our bodies' health. And now, scientists are finding this is true: there are very real connections between how we're feeling and how we're doing.
Relationships are a big area of interest. A Gallup management Journal article reports on a study that compares the state of a couple's relationship with their physical ability to recover from injury. Doctors made small wounds on the arms of 42 married couples, and then watched how fast those wounds healed. What they saw was very dramatic. The couples with good, low-stress relationships healed twice as fast as couples with relationship problems.
This study, plus other research, leads experts to think that people who have major surgery or illnesses will take more time to recover if they're having relationship problems.
Gallup management Journal says its scientists have studied the idea of well-being, and what's behind it, for more than 50 years. Over that time, they've come up with five things that most people need to feel good about their lives. They say these five things hold true in the more than 150 countries they've studied so far:
More than a few studies say "social time" makes a difference in how rich our lives are. The Gallup study reports that people who say they're happy and healthy have an average of six hours of social time a day. Social time includes time on the phone, emailing, sending and getting text messages, or being with family and friends in person.
The study goes on to say that people with zero hours of social time in a day have even chances of having a "good" or "bad" day. But people who have more social time tend to have more "good" days than people who say they have no social time. In fact, each hour of social time, up to six hours a day, seems to raise the odds of a day being a "good" one.
What if you're just not a "relationship person"? Well, we can't get into that here; we can only report that friendships seem to make a very big difference in peoples' health. In one workplace study having a friend, and even better, a "best friend," at work helps us do our jobs much better. People who have close friends at work are seven times more likely to do higher-quality work, care more about their jobs, serve customers better, have a better sense of well-being, and are less likely to be injured at work.
Close friends at work also help us meet that "six hours of social time" mark. Also, people with work friends are more productive at work. Even their "chit-chat" seems to add to productivity – tell that to your boss next time you're at the water cooler. But truly, this study says, these people seem more engaged at work. And the study shows it's not what people are doing that makes them more engaged at work; it's with whom they're working. A sense of community makes a big difference.
So if you come to work, sit at your desk, don't talk to anyone all day, and then wonder about your job performance reviews, it might pay to remember that doing well at work seems to be linked to being social at work. You might get a nice surprise on several fronts. Even those who say "I'm just not a people person" find friendship worth the effort in the long run.
Being sociable also improves your memory. A study of more than 15,000 people over age 50 showed that those who were socially active had less than half the rate of memory loss of those who spent more time alone.
And here's more support for a social life leading to a longer, healthier life. Another study of older African Americans in 2011 says that social relationships seem to improve emotional health in old age. Having support from family and friends seems to reduce some of the negatives that come with aging: in particular, the loneliness and depression that can lead to poor physical health.
One way to meet more people and feel like you're part of a community is to volunteer for something. It can be hard to find the time to do, but every year, people who volunteer find themselves reaping the rewards of friendship and self-worth. Plus, there's no better way to stop thinking about your troubles than to try helping someone else with theirs. The right volunteer match can help you find friends; improve the places where you live, work, or worship; learn new skills; and even move your career forward.
It can also be good for your mind and body. An article from the nonprofit resource HelpGuide.org lists some ways volunteering improves both mental and physical health:
Places where you might find your spot include:
The best way to volunteer is to match your personality and interests. Here are some tips from the World Volunteer Web on how to focus your search:
First, ask yourself if there's something special you want to do. For example, ask yourself "What do I want?"
Just because we're busy doesn't mean we can't take a little time to improve our communities and ourselves. Again, to be part of something you have to take part in something. PowerToChange.com has written a short list of 30-minutes-or-less ways you can put more "social" into your life:
In the time it takes to order a pizza, you could find yourself getting away from another lonely evening in front of the TV. And getting healthier while you're at it.