I just watched a TED Talk about the highest predictors for longevity. The number one predictor was social integration, meaning interacting with lots of people in one’s community. That means all types of relationships from primary, such as close family and friends, to tertiary, which might include the checker at the grocery store. While the presenter emphasized the benefits of face-to-face rather than electronic interaction, she acknowledged that it’s still too early to get definitive research results concerning the positive effects of online connection. However, I also read a 2013 research report of existing studies that suggests that social media serves as an effective connection device for many people who might otherwise feel isolated. I personally see online communication as a valuable part of my life; not replacing one-on-one, in-person interactions but certainly augmenting them. After all, if reaching out into the world and feeling part of a community is one of the primary keys for a long and happy life, then any effort to make that happen seems like a good thing, right?
People often bemoan our new reliance on computers and smartphones and our obsession with social media. However, it could be argued that the relationships we establish over the airwaves develop virtual communities, where one can feel truly valued. For example, I am part of a Story Circle Network private group where the focus is on Works in Progress. While the primary conversation centers on our weekly writing goals, we also share personal information that may be affecting our lives in general and our writing in particular. That personal sharing has bolstered our sense of connectedness in the group and we have become a tiny support community for one another. I also was a longterm member of a group from my hometown, whose initial mission was to share stories about growing up in rural Texas. However, again, it wasn’t long before we also shared our current-day thoughts and concerns and, as a result, we developed a deep bond with one another. That bond extended to yearly reunions in our hometown for several years before Facebook eclipsed our little group and we shifted to a larger community of folks. And speaking of Facebook, I personally love seeing posts from old friends and acquaintances with whom I would rarely communicate without social media. I find it a special treat to get a quick glimpse into others’ lives through their photos and short commentaries. My life feels richer as a result and I feel more heartened about the world in general. I also feel more connected.
I guess the takeaway from that TED talk is to make sure that one gets plenty of daily interaction with others, whether in person or online. The presenter said that even simply exchanging a hello or a smile with a stranger can make a big difference in our sense of community.
I plan to make more of a concerted effort to reach out to others when I’m out. Now that I know it’s a great predictor of longevity, I am even more motivated. Besides, it just makes me feel good.
Speaking of reaching out, I’ll be checking back in with you again tomorrow!
Here’s the link to that TED talk, by the way.