What’s the secret to living longer?
It’s not an easy question to answer.
Some people say it’s keeping stress to a minimum. Others say it’s a diet.
While these factors are probably important, Susan Pinker, a Canadian psychologist, says that the number one predictor of living a long life is actually your close relationships.
Specifically, Pinker refers to having people you can call upon when you need help and having people you can talk to when you’re going through an existential crisis.
In this article, we’re going to talk about Susan Pinker’s findings and what it means for those of us who want to live longer and healthier lives.
The viral TED talk: The secret to living longer might be your social life
First, check out Susan Pinker’s TED talk above. It’s a brilliant presentation that describes her findings in detail.
Susan Pinker talks about how in-person social interactions are not only necessary for human happiness but also could be a key to health and longevity.
Loneliness is on the rise
Not only is loneliness on the rise and decreasing quality of life, but research is showing that people who feel socially disconnected are at a greater risk of dying young, especially if you’re a man.
After all, women are more likely to build close relationships with others compared to men.
According to Pinker, that is one reason why, in every industrialized country, women outlive men by an average of five to seven years.
According to Scientific American:
“But nowadays women outlive men by about five to six years. By age 85 there are roughly six women to every four men. At age 100 the ratio is more than two to one. And by age 122—the current world record for human longevity—the score stands at one-nil in favor of women.”
The one place that bucks the trend
Yet, there is one place that bucks this trend: The hilltop villages of central Sardinia, where the men live just as long as the women.
Pinker says there are “10 times as many men in these villages that live past the age of 100 as men who live elsewhere”.
Many of these people who live past their 100s remain active, and work well into their 90s, living in homes with those they’ve known their whole lives.
According to biomedical researcher Giovanni Pes, genes account for perhaps 25% of the variance that leads to male super-longevity in the region, while culture accounted for the rest.
So what in their lifestyle are they doing right?
Well, according to Pinker, they all live in tightly spaced houses, interwoven alleys, and streets.
It means the villagers’ lives constantly intersect. Like most ancient villages, Villagrande couldn’t have survived without this structure, because defense and social cohesion defined its design.
So, what did the data show in regards to their longevity?
Pinker found that the number one predictor of living a long life is close relationships.
That is, having people you can call upon when you need help and having people you can talk to when you’re going through an existential crisis.
An 80-year Harvard study drew a similar conclusion: Close relationships make us happier
An 80-year Harvard study on happiness followed the lives of two groups of men, and it now follows their baby boomer children to understand how childhood experiences affect subjective feelings of well-being and happiness.
So, what did the study found?
If you think that fame or money brings happiness, you’re wrong.
According to the lead professor of the study, Waldinger, it’s the connections in our lives that make life worth living:
“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”
Furthermore, Pinker also suggests that it’s not just close relationships that keep us healthy and happy, but it’s also social integration.
This means how much you interact with people as you go about your day. How many people you actually talk to.
Because face-to-face interaction releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters, and they protect you now in the present and well into the future.
Simply making eye contact with somebody, shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust and it lowers your cortisol levels, which lowers your stress. And dopamine is generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain.
All of this passes under our conscious radar, which is why many of us conflate online activity with the real thing. But Pinker says that now we have real evidence that there is a difference.
Our survival hinges on social interaction
According to Pinker in an article in The Guardian, over the last decade population studies show that social integration – the feeling of being part of a cohesive group – fosters immunity and resilience.
Neuroscientist John Caioppo says that feeling isolated “leaves a loneliness imprint” on every cell.
Pinker explains some studies that directly show the importance of being socially connected:
“Women with breast cancer who have expansive, active, face-to-face social networks, for example, are four times as likely to survive their illness as women with sparser social connections. How might that work? Research led by Steve Cole at the University of California, Los Angeles shows that social contact switches on and off genes that regulate the rate of tumour growth (and the level of cancer-killing lymphocytes in our bloodstreams). Fifty-year-old men with active friendships are less likely to have heart attacks than more solitary men, and people who have had a stroke are better protected from grave complications by an in-person social network than they are by medication.”
What’s the problem?
According to Pinker, while the internet allows us to ignore geography and connect with like-minded people, it has eliminated our need to talk to our neighbors.
Many types of interaction have migrated online, where it is more efficient and cheaper.
Even the classroom is going virtual now too, which has only been fastened thanks to covid.
Our electronic media now informs and entertains us, so who needs face-to-face chit-chat anymore?
But when it comes to relationships, the internet can give us the illusion of close relationships without the hormonal rush of the real deal.
Recent MRI studies have shown that personal face-to-face contact elicits greater activity in the brain areas linked to social problem-solving, attention, and reward than chit-chat via a screen.
The bottom line is this:
The internet is great for sharing information, but not for deepening human connections and a sense of belonging.
Once we all recognize that we need more close friends to keep us happy, the more attention and work we will put into these relationships.
By cultivating a community of diverse, person-to-person relationships, you can help yourself out for the future and beyond.
How can you make more friends? Here are 10 ways
10 Habits You Can Adopt to Make Friends Easily
Now that we know that having more friends is important for our happiness and health, how can we go about it?
It’s certainly not easy as an adult, but the truth is, it’s still possible.
Here are 10 habits you can keep in mind – change the way you live, and the way your life unfolds will change.
1) Stay in the moment: Stop thinking. Just do. Do what feels right, do what makes you happy, and learn to squeeze out happiness from the present.
2) Be curious: Be curious and interested in what other people can offer you. Don’t be so sure that you know the best way to live life. Be open.
3) Smile first, and smile often: Nothing invites other people more than a smile. Don’t be embarrassed, don’t be ashamed. You can’t change how other people feel, but you can change how you do.
4) Want to make friends: Don’t just wait for friends to fall into your lap. Go out into the world wanting to make friends. Act the way a friend might act to new people around you.
5) Care for yourself: People like surrounding themselves with people who have value, and there is no better way to increase your value than knowing and appreciating your value. Take care of yourself – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
6) Try new things: Don’t have friends to try a new activity with? Then go do it yourself. You’ll find those friends there, waiting for you without realizing it.
7) Talk like a friend: Just because a person is new in your life doesn’t mean you have to be formal and tight. Loosen up – be the friendly “you” you know you can be.
8) Stay positive: It can be easy to let that sad inner voice get you down. It’s your job to ignore that voice and stay positive. Think about how big this world is and how many people are on it: surely there are countless happy chances waiting for you to take them.
9) Take a class: If there’s something you’ve always wanted to learn, then now is always the best time to learn it. Sign yourself up for a class and see what and who you find waiting for you.
10) Be confident: Be confident in yourself. Your value doesn’t come from your friendships. People adore confidence – don’t obsess over your own need for them to like you. You are still great whether you make friends or not. People love that kind of self-assurance.
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