Why We Need People: How Friendships Help You Live Longer


On any given day, how many people do you interact with?  Take a day this week and count the number of people with whom you have a social interaction, whether they be friends, family, baristas, or coworkers. 

In the past, face-to-face social interactions were more common.  Whether it was a spouse, family member, friend, coworker, or even just a cashier or postal worker, you would have some form of social contact on a daily basis.

Yet in a world where we are more connected through texting, social media, and FaceTime, that face-to-face contact is becoming less frequent.  It’s easier to purchase items online, use the self-checkout at the grocery store, text a friend rather than setting up a meeting, or work from home. 

While the advances in technology that allow us to do these things are convenient and useful, they have the potential to create a roadblock to relationships.

Now, social isolation is the public health risk of our time.
— Susan Pinker

As a therapist working with sex and love addicts, I often emphasize how important relationships are to my clients.  Yes, involvement in support groups and one-on-one relationships foster accountability from destructive behaviors.  But more than that, they provide healing to relational wounds that often form the foundation of the addiction.

Susan Pinker, in her TED talk, shares research she’s discovered about the roles of social contact and friendships in longevity and other health benefits.  She traveled to Sardinia’s Blue Zone, which has the largest concentration of adults over the age of 100 in the world.  Find out what she learned from these interviews in her talk.

What surprised you about this video?  Here were some helpful insights I gained:

People who have more social interactions live longer.

While Susan Pinker was interviewing the centenarians in the Blue Zone, she continually came into contact with family members and friends of these individuals who would stop by to say hello.  Their caregivers felt privileged and grateful to care for their loved ones.  Research about protective factors in relationships reinforces the influence of extended family, friends, neighbors, and daily interactions on longevity.

Online interactions do not have the same impact as face-to-face conversations.

Technology continues to develop to create closer imitations to face-to-face meetings, allowing for a greater sense of connection.  However, in the research on neuroscience cited by Pinker, she notes that oxytocin and dopamine were noticed in higher levels when individuals had face-to-face discussions as compared to viewing a video of a similar discussion.  Oxytocin and dopamine are two neurochemicals involved in the addictive patterns of sex and love addiction, further reinforcing the power of relationships for healing from addiction.

Building your village…and sustaining it is a matter of life and death.
— Susan Pinker

A factor in women’s longer lifespans may be their number of social contacts.

Anthropological research Pinker quoted indicates that research on baboons showed that females were more likely to prioritize social relationships.  Women tend to be more relational and social than men, and the ease with which women are able to maintain social connections may be a significant contributor to their life span.

Social relationships offer health benefits stronger than some medications or other treatment.

Research on support group interventions for breast cancer, chronic illness, or heart disease are shown to create a significant difference in treatment outcomes than those who simply use medication.  This indicates that having social support allows the body to function more effectively and bolsters the immune system.

What are ways to gain more social support?

Make an intentional effort to talk to people on a daily basis.

If you tend to isolate or find that you can make it for days at a time without having any meaningful social interaction, make a purposeful choice to change that pattern.  Choose the checkout line with a cashier at the grocery store.  Say hello to your neighbors the next time you see them.  Chat with your coworkers over lunch rather than eating at your desk.  This may be difficult, especially if you are introverted, struggle with social anxiety, or are simply out of practice.  Regardless, this intentional effort will make a difference over time.

Find a class or group that focuses on a special interest of yours.

What are the things you enjoy in your free time?  Maybe you’re athletic and love to play sports, or you like to read and talk about books.  Perhaps you love to knit or crochet, or you like fantasy football.  Search websites like meetup.com to find groups of people who share your interests.  Join a book club at your local bookstore or library, a club sports league, or a service organization and create relationships with the people you meet there.

Join a support group.

If you’re currently in therapy for sex and love addiction, support group involvement is a crucial step in healing.  Having the support of others through your stages of growth and freedom from addiction is a game-changer.  Sex and love addiction is an intimacy disorder usually stemming from childhood trauma, and healing trauma that comes from relationships requires positive, supportive relationships.  You can find support groups for sex and love addiction at Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA).

If you’re in therapy for another addiction mental health issue, you’ve experienced grief or a significant loss, you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, or you’re just looking for support, join a support group at local church, hospital, or community center that focuses on a topic relevant to you.  Connecting with others who are struggling helps you not to feel alone and provides an extra boost to your immune system. 

Get involved at a church through small groups or Sunday school classes.

If you are a Christian, it can be easy to become so busy with work, family obligations, and other responsibilities that getting involved in church events outside of Sunday services can feel like a burden.  But finding other individuals to support you on your journey of becoming more like Christ can be revolutionary not only in your faith, but also in your friendships.  Seek out a way to get involved with others in your church community through a small group, care group, or Sunday school class and begin to forge relationships based on a common ground of faith. 

Do you struggle with feelings of loneliness?  Is it difficult for you to connect with others due to social anxiety?  Are you struggling with sex and love addiction or another mental health issue that is causing you to feel isolated and alone?  It is essential to have social support through relationships, and at Restored Hope, I’ll help you discover ways to connect with others that work for you.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment at my Ann Arbor office.