How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier People

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Recently recommended by Generations United, “The Village Effect” points out the benefits and importance of friend networks and face-to-face interaction. Susan explains how people who invest in meaningful and personal relationships with a lot of real social contact are more robust and have better physiological defenses than those who are solitary or who engage with the world largely online. In today’s world where there are many technologies that allow us to live with limited face-to-face interaction, this can be difficult. She goes on to explain how it affects how well we learn to read, how quickly we fight off infection, and ultimately how long we live.

Pinker shares a story about a man named John who needed a kidney transplant. The disease was in John’s family and several of his family members had passed away from complications. John was a drummer and would perform with bands but didn’t make a steady income. He enjoyed drumming and didn’t mind picking up several other odd jobs to make ends meet. Because of the long waitlist and limited funds, John needed someone to offer a kidney to him if he wanted to survive. It’s not often that a person biologically related to you offers a kidney (3 in 1000), and John had 4 serious offers from friends. Susan says because of his strong relationships he was able to beat the disease that killed his father.

Most people are under the impression that diet, exercise, and a new class of drugs have created break throughs in the past decade (which have helped), but evidence shows social bonds are equally transformative. Social interaction has been linked to recovery, with findings of people more likely to recover from cancer, less likely to develop dementia, etc. Loneliness can affect the body negatively like stress, and can be compared to hunger and thirst pains.

With the internet and other technologies, people are becoming more and less connected. Friend circles and networks are becoming larger, but not necessarily closer. Susan mentions quality over quantity in friendships, claiming most Americans said they have fewer than 2 people they can depend on. To read more about Susan Pinker’s findings, check out her book.

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AuthorJane Rohde