Is Social Connection More Important Than Smoking? (Detox? Or Not-To-Tox? Part 6)
“Our social support is a stronger predictor of survival than physical activity, body mass index, hypertension, air pollution, alcohol consumption, and even smoking fifteen cigarettes a day!” Chris Kresser
Connection makes for a better life…
This is the final part of our series ‘Detox? Or Not-To-Tox? and, for your health’s sake, we’re urging you to re-connect. As we’ve already seen – stress, sleep, movement, our digestion, the food we eat all impact on our health. But so does the quality of our relationships – and it impacts big time.
If you haven’t caught up with the previous posts – here they are:
Read PART 1 here: Part 1: ‘The Detox Treadmill!’
Read PART 3 here: Part 3: ‘Nourish Deeply’
Read PART 4 here: Part 4: ‘Stress and Sleep Are Toxic Bedfellows’
Read PART 5 here: Part 5: ‘Move It. Use It. But Don’t Lose It’
We’re ‘hard-wired’ for social connection
Back in the day, when life was slower and less complicated, were we kinder to ourselves, each other and to our environment? Sure, materially, things may have been far less comfortable, but were we stronger, fitter, healthier? And crucially, were we more connected?
Research is telling us clearly that dis-connection is toxic! The Harvard Study of Adult Development has been tracking the lives of 724 men for over 75 years; in it’s most recent report (November 2015) Robert Waldinger told a TEDx audience:
“We learned three big lessons about relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us, and that loneliness kills … people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected.
And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in mid-life, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely. And the sad fact is that at any given time, more than one in five Americans will report that they’re lonely.
“And we know that you can be lonely in a crowd and you can be lonely in a marriage, so the second big lesson that we learned is that it’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship, but it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.
It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.
“The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. And good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old. Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80’s, that on the days when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days when they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain.
“And the third big lesson that we learned about relationships and our health is that good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80’s is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper longer.
And the people in relationships where they feel they really can’t count on the other one, those are the people who experience earlier memory decline. And those good relationships, they don’t have to be smooth all the time. Some of our octogenarian couples could bicker with each other day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they could really count on the other when the going got tough, those arguments didn’t take a toll on their memories.”
So if the message coming out of Harvard, loud and clear, is “get connected” how is it that qualitative social researcher Professor Brene Brown, who has interviewed thousands of people from all walks of life, has reached this conclusion:
“Connection is what gives purpose and meaning to life…neurobiologically, it’s how we’re wired. But, people’s stories are about disconnection” – Brene Brown, The Power of Vulnerability
Disconnected and Addicted?
Self-medication and substance misuse of every kind is endemic and increasingly accepted as ‘normal’. This 5-minute animation shines a light on why we’re becoming de-sensitized to a growing problem of social isolation and disconnection.
Most people think that the reason why people become addicted to drugs is solely because of the drugs themselves. This, however, is far from the truth, as shown repeatedly by scientific studies on drug addiction but drugs don’t actually cause addiction …
In recent years we’ve seen an explosion of self-help, personal development and spiritual enlightenment books, websites and on-line communities seeking to guide us towards a sense of connection, purpose, fulfilment, peace and happiness. So what’s going on?
Connection, relationships and food?
Food? Well think about it from this perspective: Connected relationships are a fundamental, universal human need. Historically, central to the expression of this need, has been the process of preparing and cooking food communally.
For millennia, sharing food has been at the very centre of every civilisation and of every culture., And in this communality, we weren’t just nourishing our bodies – we were nourishing the fabric of who we are.
We were building communities; fostering a sense of family; socialising our children, teaching them about who they are and passing on life-skills.
But today, we eat alone. Nearly half of all the meals taken at home are ‘ready’ meals, cooked singly in the microwave and consumed alone in front of the TV. Increasingly, many families no longer even own a dining table – a social and cultural disaster on every level?
If our disconnection from our food reflects a deeper disconnection – from nature, from each other and from our ‘selves’ – can we really be surprised that children in the UK ranked bottom, out of 21 developed nations, for child welfare? Our children are amongst the most stressed, unhappy and unhealthy on the planet. What an indictment!
“Recent research…shows that children in the UK are some of the most pressurised, unhappy and commercially vulnerable in the world…living increasingly sedentary, media-saturated lives and spending less and less time in contact with the natural world. This is having profound consequences for… health, especially in regard to what has been called the ‘modern epidemic’ of obesity”
– Wendy Ellyat, Save Childhood Movement (2012)
Towards a better life?
Many leading writers, thinkers, academics and ‘gurus’ from every field are coming to these conclusions:
“When we point the mind towards the heart and focus on the good qualities in people…we sow seeds of emotional closeness…we gradually move closer, emotionally, to those who matter to us, as well as build a network of people who value us for who we are.”
– Dr David Hamilton: Did you know you’re a chemist?
“Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, its is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival”.
– The Dali Lama XIV, Towards a True Kindship of Faiths
I’m obsessed with helping patients and health care providers view illness, not from a place of victim-hood, but as an opportunity for awakening. I doctor not just bodies, but souls”.
– Dr Lissa Rankin, Mind Over Medicine
Indeed, Lissa Rankin describes the fascinating story of the inhabitants of Roseto, an Italian community in the United States and the subject of a longitudinal study into why they were bucking the national trend for cardiovascular disease. After years following the health of this tight-knit community, the researcher, Dr Wolf concluded that it was exactly the close connections and social support which individuals experienced within the community, that was heart protective.
Most of us would agree that our overall happiness – how we feel about ourselves and our lives – is what matters most. But if that’s so, why do so many of us live a life of ‘lack’: lack of purpose, lack of fulfilment, isolation, loneliness, stress, anxiety, depression? And despite advances in medical knowledge, why is it that addictions, self and over medication, food intolerances, eating disorders, diabetes, obesity, diabesity, psychological and every kind of chronic illness are on the increase?
In recent years, research from the science of ‘Well-Being’ tells us that we need a change of priorities: Happiness and fulfilment comes less from material wealth and more from relationships; less from focussing on ourselves and more from helping others; less from external factors…and more from how we choose to react to what happens to us.
In our affluent, developed society, we worry constantly about how much – or how little – money we have. We strive constantly to ‘better’ ourselves, judge ourselves and each other by what we do for a living and measure our success by the size of our salary. But, despite our relative wealth, every psycho-social health indicator shows that we’re more dissatisfied, more stressed, more depressed and emotionally more impoverished than ever before. Why is it that we’re so unhappy?
Action for Happiness
Action for Happiness is a movement for positive social change. It brings together people from all walks of life who want to play a part in creating a happier society for everyone. This video explains why Action for Happiness think ‘happiness’ matters and how they hope to inspire and enable people to help build a happier society – together.
So it seems that the desire for a more ‘connected’ life is not only a universal need, but a ‘prerequisite’ for happiness. But how do we start the journey? Action for Happiness has developed some really great resources for better living:
Each of us will be drawn to take a different path. But, no matter which path you’re drawn to … just take that important FIRST step and, for your health’s sake, re-c0nnect!
The Last Word: My Philosophy
Well, this concludes the series ‘Detox? Or Not-To-Tox?’ This series has focused on creating those ‘healthy habits’ that give our body all the optimum fuels that it needs ‘not-to-tox‘ – so that it can do what it’s designed to do: detox naturally. And make no mistake – no one element is more important than any other … it’s the whole damn deal that works.
Chris Kresser: The Paleo Cure
Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability
Wendy Ellyat: Save Childhood Movement
Dr David Hamilton: Did you know you’re a chemist?
Dr Lissa Rankin: Mind Over Medicine
The Dali Lama XIV: Towards a True Kinship of Faiths: How The World’s Religions Can Come Together