How healthy is your social life?

Good social life for overall health

"Well-being" is "the condition of being healthy, happy, and comfortable ...." according to opens in new window) . Bottom line, your idea of well-being is directly associated with how you view and feel about your life.

Many factors play a role in our well-being. There are the basics like food, shelter, and health. And then there are emotional aspects such as: our relationships with others, feeling like we have value, or believing our lives have meaning.

It's easy to conclude that as long as individual basic needs are met, everything else is just sugar on top. However, many scientists have considered there to be a link between our well-being and our bodies' health.

Relationships, it turns out, do matter. An article entitled, Your Friends and Your Social Well-being, published by the Gallup Business Journal1, explores 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 observed was quite dramatic. The couples with good, low-stress relationships healed twice as fast as compared to couples experiencing strained relationships.

Five vital elements of well-being

According to Tom Rath and Jim Harter, authors of the book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, there are five lifestyle factors that individuals need in order to feel good about their lives:

  1. Liking what you do (career well-being)
  2. Having strong relationships and love in your life (social well-being)
  3. Being able to manage your money (financial well-being)
  4. Being in good health, with enough energy to get things done each day (physical well-being)
  5. Feeling engaged with where you live (community well-being)

Good days vs. bad days

Furthermore, the importance of being social and making time to socialize is also directly related to overall well-being. Individuals who think of themselves as being ‘happy’ and ‘healthy’ have an average of six hours of social time a day, which includes time on the phone, emailing, sending and receiving text messages, or spending time with family and friends in person.2

Alternatively, individuals with little to no social time have an even chance of having a "good" or "bad" day. Interestingly, individuals with more social time tend to have more "good" days than individuals who don’t socialize. In fact, each hour of social time, up to six hours a day, can raise the odds of having a “good" day.

The power of friendship & work relationships

Friendships can make a considerable difference in individual health. Having a friend, and even better, a "best friend," at work helps us do our jobs much better. Individuals with 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. 3

Likewise, close friends at work also help us meet that "six hours of social time" mark. Individuals with work friends tend to be more productive at work. Even their "chit-chat" can add to a productivity – tell that to your boss next time you're at the water cooler. People who socialize and make friends seem more engaged at work. it's not necessarily what people are doing that makes them more engaged at work; it's whom they're working with that helps to make a difference.4

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 appears to be linked to being social at work.

Social connections and aging

Being social also helps with memory. Here again, Rath and Harter reference study data that among more than 15,000 people over 50 years old who were socially active had less than half the rate of memory loss as compared to individuals who spent more time alone.

Several research studies have shown a strong correlation between social interaction, healthy aging and well-being among older adults5. Having support from family and friends can help to offset the negatives that sometimes occur with aging such as loneliness and depression that may negatively impact on physical health.

Volunteering: help someone else, help yourself

One way to meet more people and feel like you are part of a community is to volunteer. People who volunteer often find this type of activity as a new outlet for social interaction and meeting new people. 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 entitled, Volunteering and its Surprising Benefits, How Giving to others Makes You Healthier and Happier from the nonprofit resource lists some ways volunteering improves both mental and physical health:

  • Volunteering helps people gain self-confidence.

    When you volunteer, you do something good for others. This gives you a sense of self, pride, and a healthy feeling of accomplishment. And from such a place, you're much more likely to have a positive view of your life and future goals.

  • Volunteering fights depression.

    A major risk for depression is social isolation – basically, withdrawing from others and being alone – which then too easily becomes lonely. From there it's too easy for depression to creep in. When you volunteer, you stay in touch with people. You can also build a good support system, which can help you fight stress when you're facing life's tough times.

  • Volunteering is good for your body.

    Volunteering can help your health at any age, but especially as we get older. Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who don't, even when the volunteers have health issues to start with. Volunteering has also been shown to ease symptoms of chronic pain or heart disease.

Places where you might find your spot include:

  • Community theaters, museums, and monuments
  • Libraries or senior centers
  • Service organizations such as Lions club or Rotary clubs
  • Youth organizations, sports teams, and after-school programs
  • Historical restorations and national parks
  • Places of worship like churches or synagogues
  • Online databases
  • Community food banks, aid groups
  • Community-action groups

The ideal 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?"

  • To make it better around where I live?
  • To meet people who are different from me?
  • To try something new?
  • To do something with my spare time?
  • To see a different way of life and new places?
  • To try the type of work I might want to do as a full-time job?
  • To do more with my interests and hobbies?
  • To spend more time doing something I'm good at?"

There are many ways to be active and social. The HelpGuide Way6 to better mental and emotional health includes 6 tips for better well-being. Each one of these tips are meant to help with building resilience, strengthen relationships and get more enjoyment out of life.

  1. Connect face-to-face with others
  2. Get moving
  3. Manage stress
  4. Let your diet support your brain
  5. Find happiness through giving
  6. Invest in self-care

This information is for educational purposes only and does not replace treatment or advice from a healthcare professional. If you have questions, please talk with your doctor.

  • 1,2,3,4 Your Friends and Your Social Wellbeing, Tom Rath and Jim Harter, Ph.D., Adapted from Well-Being: The Five Essential Elements, Gallop Business Journal, August 19, 2010
  • 5 Living Long & Well in the 21st Century: Strategic Directions for Research on Aging, National Institute on Aging (NIA)
  • 6 Improving Mental and Emotional Health, The HelpGuide Way to Mental and Emotional Well-Being

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