One of the discoveries that aligns perfectly with Scripture is that love and connection are longevity boosters. Psychologist Susan Pinker, social science columnist for The Wall Street Journal and author of The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier, found the top two predictors of a long life were close relationships and social integration. "Friendships create a biological force field against disease and decline," said Pinker.
Harvard researcher, Dr. Robert Waldinger, found similar benefits in social connection. Dan Buettner, the original Blue Zone researcher, also found this to be a key to the health of Adventists. "An Adventist in Loma Linda has such a strong face-to-face social network. You go to church with them, you hike with them, they're there for you and you're there for them. These are subtleties that are enormously powerful but vastly under-celebrated because there is no profit in them. If social connectedness and volunteerism were pharmaceuticals, they would be blockbuster drugs."
The opposite also is true. "We also know that loneliness kills. In America, it shaves eight years off your life expectancy," says Buettner. This is a staggering fact considering that one in four Americans say they are lonely.
How can you benefit from these findings?
Pinker found that, statistically, each of us needs at least three very close and stable connections to feel socially fulfilled. "These are the people who you can call for a loan if you need money suddenly, who will call the doctor if you're not feeling well, or who will take you to the hospital, or who would sit with you if you're having an existential crisis, if you're in despair." It sounds like Jesus' unique bond with Peter, James and John.
Pinker notes that extended family surrounds most centenarians in Sardina, the Italian Blue Zone. The first commandment with a promise rings true. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long . . . (Exodus 20:12).
The second predictor is social integration, meaning the people you interact with throughout the day. Do you know the name of the bank teller or waitress? "Face-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters; like a vaccine, they protect you in the present and well into the future," found Pinker. All of these seemingly small interactions can positively affect your well-being.
Volunteerism has an even more significant effect as discovered by many participants in FARM STEW, a ministry I established a few years ago that provides hands-on classes in Africa and crews in the U.S. who come together to support the work.
Susan, a church member of Wanyange Village, Uganda, shares enthusiastically: "The training they brought has worked a lot in our homes and in us. We are united. My husband reminds me saying, 'Every Tuesday — Farm Stew training day!’"
Cooking and gardening together can lead to a feeling of abundant life, even in poor communities.
To increase your relationship benefits, it is vital to:
• Prioritize face-to-face relationships
• Have at least three close, stable friendships
• Interact with people you see daily
• Reach out to meet your neighbors and know your colleagues
Relationships take work, but the rewards are great! May all of our relationships promote health and longevity, temporal and eternal.
So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith (Galatians 6:10 NRSV).
Joy Kauffman, MPH, is founder and president of FARM STEW International. For more information, please visit farmstew.org