A study from Brigham Young University suggests adding social relationships to the “short list” of factors that predict a person’s odds of living or dying. BYU professors Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith reported that social connections – friends, family, neighbors or colleagues – improve the odds of survival by 50 percent.
Researchers analyzed data from 148 previously published studies that measured frequency of human interaction, and tracked health outcomes for roughly seven-and-a-half years. Because information on relationship quality was unavailable, the 50 percent increased odds of survival may underestimate the benefit of healthy relationships.
“The data simply showed whether they were integrated in a social network,” Holt-Lunstad said in a news release. “That means the effects of negative relationships are lumped in there with the positive ones. They are all averaged together.”
Holt-Lunstad also said there are many pathways through which friends and family influence each other, ranging from a calming touch to finding meaning in life.
“When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks,” Holt-Lunstad said.
The Rev. Fred Rajan, vice president of mission and spiritual care at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington agrees with the findings.
“This study reminds me of the biblical character Job and his three friends,” he said. “Job was gravely ill and his friends visited him. The visit is a model for friends journeying with someone in need.
“For seven days the friends sat with Job and did not say a word to him. They were there accepting Job and his suffering. The friends were non-judgmental and they respected Job’s boundaries. The friends showed active listening with eye contact and body language.”
Rajan also says when friends face adverse health events, they reassure you are not alone in your journey. There are two ideal locations for finding quality friends that provide the same values as you do.
“Congregations are an excellent place to establish lasting friendship,” he says. “Churches remind the faithful, we need each other. The potpourri of programs they offer is an excellent source of initiating meaningful friendship. Volunteering is also a great way for like-minded people to build friendships and establish a purpose in life.”
About the Author
Lisa O’Neil serves as director of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington.
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