keeping in touch: benefits of social connection

I’m living a more sociable life and enjoying more social connection in retirement than ever before.

I recently had a glorious week in Brighton with my partner, his father and stepmother.  We’ve spent time doing nothing (except talking and drinking tea) with my sister-in-law and her family. And had lots of family get-togethers nearer to home.

the benefits of social connection
dancing in the moonlight, Brighton bandstand

I’ve been busy catching up with friends too. Lunches, long walks, days out – with former work colleagues and other friends old and new.

I made a resolution when I retired to reconnect with good friends I’d lost touch with and generally spend more time with friends and family.  

Sixteen months later I’m still with the programme and I’m loving it!

I made my resolution before I became aware that social connection has a critical impact on our physical health as well as our emotional and mental wellbeing.  

In fact some research indicates that lack of social connection is more detrimental to our health and wellbeing than smoking, obesity and high blood pressure!

People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression.  Studies also show they have higher self-esteem, greater empathy and are more trusting and cooperative. This in turn makes others more likely to trust and cooperate with them.  

It appears, then, that social connection creates a virtuous circle which enhances social, emotional and physical wellbeing.

A perfect illustration of the benefits of social connection is found in Okinawa in Japan. The island is foremost among the world’s five “blue zones” where people live longer (and more healthily and happily) than anywhere else on earth.

There are believed to be a number of contributing factors but research suggests that a significant one is the way Okinawans form close community bonds.

Many Okinawans belong to a “moai” – a group of people with shared interests who get together regularly for meals and to participate in whatever hobby they have in common. 

The feeling of belonging they derive from a close and supportive network gives Okinawans a sense of security that appears to contribute to their longevity and vitality.

Elsewhere a general decline in levels of social connection could be linked to the reported rise in loneliness and isolation.  A study in America, for example, found that 25% of people surveyed felt they had nobody they could confide in.

However to experience social connection we don’t have to connect with lots of people.  Research indicates that the benefits are linked more to our subjective feelings of connection than to our actual number of friends.

This infographic created by Emma Seppala sets out the benefits of social connection and the dangers of a lack of connection.

http://ccare.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/ConnectToThrive11.jpg

read more at emmaseppala.com.

So keeping in touch with friends and family has all kinds of benefits and makes us feel good.  For more ideas and inspiration on enjoying retirement, take a look at my earlier articles on having a good day, getting into flow, being bold and brilliant as we agealtruism and volunteering.

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