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Community: The Secret to Living Longer

Community is important to me. My family and friends bring much joy to my life. I feel happier and more fulfilled spending time with loved ones than when I deposit a check or buy a new pair of shoes. I changed my major in college because the degree path I started on didn’t provide enough social interaction for me. 

Now, I’ve moved across the country (read about our move from West Texas to West Virginia here) and work solo from my home office. Plus, I’m not really a phone talker. All of these factors could lead to an isolated life.

But, I watched Susan Pinker’s 2017 TED Talk “The secret to living longer may be your social life”– a great reminder to us all why we live on a planet full of people. People that look differently, think differently, live differently. In Susan’s talk, she discusses results of a study by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., where she studied tens of thousands of middle-aged people to see what reduces your chances of dying the most? What she found may shock you.

According to the study, the top two factors in living a long life have to do with our social life. The second-most influential factor is our close relationships—our family and friends that check in on us, take us to the doctor, etc. The number one most influential factor is social integration—how much we interact with people on a daily basis. This is both our weak and our strong bonds, meaning it’s just as important that we talk to our neighbors, our baristas, that smiling stranger at the grocery store, as it is that we spend time with friends and family. 

Pinker talks about how face-to-face contact releases a variety of neurotransmitters that foster trust, reduce stress, kill pain, and induce pleasure. She said men who’ve had a stroke and meet regularly with friends to play poker or have coffee are better protected by that social interaction than by medication. 

The study shows an active social life has a much greater impact on our longevity than quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, getting the flu shot—even having clean air to breathe. 

Wow! I’ll trade exercising for a night out with friends any day! 

Do yourself a favor and take 16 minutes and watch Susan Pinker’s TED Talk. It changed my frame of mind. It’s easy to be lazy and give in to the temptation of ordering in pizza and binging on Gilmore Girls—which I’ve totally done. And will continue to do from time to time. But it’s vital that we get out of our comfort zone and interact with the other human beings on Earth. It’s good for us all. 

I put Pinker’s advice to practice at our new home in West Virginia. When we moved here I did not know a single soul in this state. It’s hard to live apart from your family and close friends. I’ve joined a women’s bible study group, writing groups, book clubs, and Tuesdays Together (a group of local entrepreneurs, creatives and freelancers). I volunteer with Read Aloud West Virginiato read books to a local third and fourth grade class every Friday and also with Big Brothers Big Sisters to spend time with my “little sis” regularly. I’m making myself get out of my comfort zone, out of the house, and into the community. And, I’ve made new friends along the way.

Though I’m not certain these things will actually help me to live longer, I know they help me to live a fuller life, and that’s more important to me.

What do you do to meet new people and get out in your community? Please share in the comments below!

Join my community. I will share with you stories about nature, the outdoors, literature, film, design, travel, faith and culture that are interesting, inspiring or helpful. And, I’m working on opportunities to gather this community face-to-face in the future—stay tuned. 

Love your journey,

Bren

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