The Recipe for Longevity: No Smoking, lots of friends says Time magazine.

A healthy social life may be as good for us as avoiding cigarettes! Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill pooled data from 148 studies found that those with robust social ties had a 50% increased chance of longevity.

Social connection improves physical and emotional well-being. Several recent Japanese studies confirm this to be the case.

We know what is good for us: eat your veggies, work out and get enough sleep. But do we think of social connection is just as critical?

A University of Michigan study showed that a lack of social connection is more detrimental than obesity, smoking or high blood pressure. Connected people have lower levels of anxiety and depression, have higher self-esteem, greater empathy, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. Social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.

Unfortunately research shows that loneliness is on the rise and social connectedness is waning alarmingly. A Stanford study showed that 25% of Americans have no one to share a personal problem with. This decline in social connectedness may be leading some to seek counseling.

Sheldon Cohen at Carnegie Mellon University exposed volunteers to the common cold virus and then quarantined them. Participants with more social connections were less likely to develop a cold than the more socially isolated.

Studies suggest that the immune response may be affected by stress hormones — so a strong social life affects immune function by helping people keep physiological stress in check.

We look out for each other in bad times or natural disasters. It is easier to see big tragedies but we are often not as tuned into what is going on around us. Generosity can take many forms, our time or our attention. At times what is needed is just to be listened to, not help resolving the issue.

My family and I have the privilege of visiting a friend in a nursing home regularly. Every time he would tell us “I have been just doing a lot of nothing”. All we can do is be with him so he has someone to share his time with.

The good news is that the benefit has more to do with the subjective feeling of connection than the actual number of friends. You could have 1,000 friends and still feel socially disconnected (hence the expression loneliness in a crowd) but you could also have no close friends or relatives and still feel very connected from within. Look within. It’s not your location that makes you safe. It’s where you are in your soul, mind and heart. That place is real and safe. Open your heart. Embrace it.

Stoicism defines humans as social beings as well as rational ones. Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius writes that “all human beings are a family and meant to to be treated as such. Humans are born to work together.”

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.” – Thomas Merton

joke: What did the quiet tent say to the noisy tent? Zip It!