Our Presence in Connection – and Longevity
What Colby Itkowitz at The Washington Post writes about this TED.com talk – and the talk itself – is right in line with all that has occurred in this last week in Iceland. This was sent to me by my long time friend, Kari Uman. We have sat in a circle of women together for 23 years.
VANCOUVER — Want to live longer, enjoy life more and actually find that elusive happiness?
Among the dozens of big ideas shared this week at the international TED conference — from a robot that could outperform students on college exams to an ultraviolet light that could kill superbugs — were some simpler, almost obvious, life improvements we should all prioritize to live better lives. While the ideas themselves might not be all that surprising, the explanations for how and why they better your life served as powerful reminders that we might be prioritizing the wrong things, and undervaluing that which makes life worth living.
Face-to-face social interaction leads to a longer life
Smoking, drinking, exercise and even heart problems are not predictors of a person’s longevity — a person’s close relationships and social integration were. That’s what psychologist Susan Pinker has discovered in researching the impact that our human connections have on all aspects of our well-being, including our physical health. Those with intimacy in their lives, those with support systems and frequent face-to-face interactions were not only physically and emotionally healthier, but they also lived longer.
It’s why women, who tend to prioritize spending time with their friends more than men, live an average of six years longer, Pinker said. And it’s not enough to text or email. The actual health benefits of socializing are only achieved through in-person contact, she said.
“Face-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now in the present and well into the future,” she said.
And it doesn’t even have to be long, close interactions to have an immediate effect. Making eye contact, shaking someone’s hand, giving someone a high-five lowers your cortisone levels and releases dopamine, making you less stressed and giving you a little high, she said. Pinker showed two images of the brain, one of someone conversing in person and another of someone watching a video of someone discussing the same subject. In the brain of the person interacting, parts of the brain associated with social intelligence and emotional reward lit up.
“This face-to-face contact provides stunning benefits, but a quarter of the population says they have no one to talk to,” Pinker said. “We can do something about this. It’s a biological imperative to know we belong. … Building in-person interactions into our cities, into our workplaces, into our agendas, bolsters our immune system, sends positive hormones surging through our bloodstream and brain and helps us live longer. I call this building your village, and building it is a matter of life or death.”