Friendship: Strong Social Ties Lengthen Our Lives

As our national thanksgiving holiday draws near, we count our friends among our blessings. But did you know that the strength of our friendships might increase the length—as well as the quality—of our lives?

C. S. Lewis famously observed that “friendship … has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” Although his sentiment is touching, modern medical researchers would take issue with its accuracy. A 2010 review of 148 studies evaluated the size and function of individual social networks, and found that people with more social connections had a 50 percent greater chance of outliving those with weaker social ties.

Even more significantly, these improved odds protected both healthy people and people with chronic diseases like arthritis. The greater your social resources are, the greater your odds of survival are.

This season of gratitude is an ideal time to nurture existing friendships and cultivate new relationships. We have four suggestions for those of you who would like to strengthen your social circles while improving your odds of a longer, more fulfilling life.

  • Join a group that reflects your interests. Sharing interests with others is a positive and affirming step that makes people feel connected. Joining a community or neighborhood organization, a church group, or a school activity is a good place to start.
  • Brush up your social media skills online. Computer interaction is particularly valuable for the elderly; physical limitations can make them feel isolated and less involved in life. Online forums foster connections to new people and social engagement, and free online classes can introduce them to a new group of learners who share their interests.
  • Put your phone to work. This is another tool that is particularly valuable to older people with restricted mobility. Friends may live on the other side of town or on the other side of the country, but a phone is just an arm’s length away.
  • Volunteer for a cause you love. Reflect on the activities and values that move you. Do you love reading to children? Directing learners to the library resources they need? Helping out as an advocate for neighborhood safety? Volunteering can bring the causes you care about into your life, and connect you with others who feel as passionately as you do.

Our friendships enrich our lives—and just may give us longer lives to enjoy. That is definitely something to be thankful for!

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