True friendship multiplies the good in life and divides its evils. Strive to have friends, for life without friends is like life on a desert island… to find one real friend in a lifetime is good fortune; to keep him is a blessing. — Baltasar Gracian
In Acting On Purpose, I wrote about being an active participant in creating your life; it’s challenges and rewards. And in particular I wrote about a moment when I struggled with deciding who I would and would not hang out with. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was embarking on one of the best things I could do for myself because having strong ties can literally save your life. If you have strong communities ties you’ll likely live longer, live stronger and in some cases beat the odd of early death.
Choosing my friends was a dizzying experience on so many levels. Honestly, it never occurred to me that it might be a problem. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area all my life. My family was there. My friends were there. My professional contacts were there. Except for a few stragglers, all of my closest and fondest friends, companions, or relatives were clustered around a city that is 7 by 7 miles.
Then I moved to Europe and everything changed. I had to meet new people and make new friends without the luxury of introductions from friends, family or longstanding business contacts. It was then that I realized I had very little experience meeting new people. I met a few people in France while I was learning French at Alliance Française. But it was a little more challenging when I moved to Brussels. I tried a few random groups, but nothing really felt right. Fortunately, Sébastien suggested that I check out www.Meetup.com. Finding groups that exactly the same interests as me was a breeze, then I found people I clicked with and from there, my community finally started to come together.
After realizing that I never really thought about community and what it meant, I did a little research to see what the experts said about the while thing. Some of what I learn totally surprised me and some simply articulate what I instinctively know, but never put clearly into words:
You become kin. Health advocate Mark Sisson, writes in his blog post The 10 Habits of Highly Successful Hunter-Gatherers, “Our ancestors depended upon a tight knit social circle. Their survival hinged upon it, in fact. The band community of 25-50 people was forged within a sense of mutuality – action for the good of the group. It was more than simple transaction, larger than familial connection (not everyone was related). You became kin by being kin and sharing in the menial work, the ongoing stories, and the meaningful celebrations of the band.” While in the post he is promoting the benefits of a primal lifestyle, as it turns out his assumption about community is spot on even if you don’t go primal.
You live longer. In her book, The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier, psychologist Susan Pinker shows in a study of 309,000 people, those who were actively involved in a community, playing a number of social roles, doubled their chances of survival over the 7 years of research. Today, studies show those who live in tight communities most often count themselves among the elite group of centenarians — that is to say a person lives to be one hundred or more years old.
You beat the odds. Pinker also found that in men, whose worldwide average life expectancy at birth is 68 years and 6 months, who have strong social bonds live longer than their fellow citizens by as many as two or three decades! Pinker’s research also suggest that even people who live in areas deemed the worst ozone pollution area in the United States by the American Lung Association live longer than other Americans, due largely to their strong social ties.
Surprisingly being in a good relationship or a member of a club isn’t good enough either. We need multiple touch points. We need to be involved in several activities and types of relationships. The moral of the story for me is get out there. Find your tribe. Being selfishly deliberate is not only important, it’s necessary. I’ve taken the following steps to change my life for the better:
- Deepening the relationships I already have.
- Recognizing that my partner, family members and closer friends are my tribe, I’ve gained a whole new level of appreciation for the role they play in my life.
- Reconnecting with old friends, and testing the waters to see if there’s potential to become close again.
- Joining Meetup groups (and I’m thinking about creating one of my own!)
Above and beyond those Sisson suggests the following ideas:
- Get out into the world, meet people, and make an invitation.
- Invite a coworker for lunch.
- Join a book club, basketball league or other community based group.
- Host an open house or organize a block party for the neighbors.
These are jump off points. What can you add to the list?
But you don’t need hundreds of friends to reap the benefits. Dr. Robin Dunbar, Head of the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford and author of The Meaning of Friendship, has done research that suggests we need between three and five friends for optimal well-being. I’m not suggesting that you shut down you social accounts, only that if you don’t have one already, go out and be a good friends, so you can cultivate a core group all of whom support each other through transitions, successes and disappointments.
What does it all mean? For the first time in my life not only am I relocating relatively frequently between countries, so to say that connecting and staying connected gets complicated is an understatement. But now I know my instincts were exactly right. Being an island is not a good idea.
The moment I made the decision to move abroad, I stepped out of my comfort zone. But thanks to my new and growing community, I look forward to living long, strong and beating the odds while having a great time. Eric Barker sums it up this way, “To be happy and live longer you want strong bonds to a community of like-minded people who understand and care about you.” So no matter whether your common interest is in the well-being of dogs, your neighborhood or the welfare of your global community — find your tribe. Who knew that being deliberate about your friends could lead to living longer, stronger and happier.