In 1976 Atamatis Moraits, only in his mid-60’s, got the terrible news that he had nine months to live. The diagnosis, confirmed by nine doctors, was that he had terminal lung cancer. Originally from a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea, he decided to return to his ancestral home with his wife so he could be buried with the others in his family who had preceded him in death. Remarkably, without any explanation the lung cancer disappeared and Atamatis lived 37 more years, dying at the age of 102.[1]

How did he survive so long?

How did this happen? Some say it was the fresh air, the healthy Mediterranean diet of fish and fresh vegetables. Maybe it was the wine, the olive oil and goat cheese, or the exercise from walking up and down the hills. Maybe it was even a result of all of the above, but one other thing that social scientists are now realizing is that it may also have to do with the social connections he had to family and friends.

We need to connect to others

Most are familiar with the saying, “Do you see that glass as half full or half empty?” Well, it turns out that there has been a lot of research on happiness, its causes and its importance for a healthy and successful life; and one of the biggest factors affecting our outlook on life has to do with our social connections to others. The author Shawn Alcorn writes in his book, The Happiness Advantage, that there “was one—and only one—characteristic that distinguished the happiest 10 percent from everybody else; the strength of their social relationships.”

Certainly God, the Creator of life itself, understands the high importance of our connection to others. He tells us repeatedly that we are members of His family and that we are all connected to one another with uniquely individual roles and functions to play in the Body of Christ.

Consider some of the following connection facts

– “Social support was a far greater predictor of happiness than any other factor, more than GPA, family income, SAT scores, age, gender, or race.”

– “When we make positive social connections, the pleasure inducing hormone oxytocin is released into our bloodstream, immediately reducing anxiety and improving concentration and focus.”

– “Each social connection also bolsters our cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and immune systems, so that the more connections we make over time the better we function.”

– “A lack of social connections is just as deadly as certain diseases. In fact, researchers have found that social support has as much effect on life expectancy as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and regular physical activity.”

– “Researchers have found that social bonds weren’t just predictive of overall happiness, but also of eventual career achievement, occupational success, and income.”

Practical ways to build connections

If you are a person who struggles connecting with others, then make a consistent effort to connect with others—it will pay off with huge dividends. Here are a few simple ways to increase and strengthen your social connections.

– Make a phone call to check on someone that you haven’t spoken to or checked on in a while.

– Search your address book and then send out a note, encouraging letter or email to someone. Make a consistent effort to connect with someone every day for a while. You may be surprised to hear back from someone that you haven’t interacted with in a long time, and possibly find they have been lonely too.

– Consider volunteering for an organization or local cause that interests you. Hospitals, museums, and not-for-profits are all sometimes looking for help, and you may be surprised how your expertise and experience can really help them.

– Attend a conference, class, or seminar on a topic that you are interested in. Most communities offer Adult Education programs and Recreation classes on a variety of topics and hobbies.

– Consider starting your own group, inviting people who may share your same passion on a matter or hobby.

– Join an Internet social group and begin to interact. You can find others who share common interests on hiking, bicycle riding, bird watching, local history, and all kinds of topics.

– Find a local church and plug in some way. Some have found others through choirs, prayer groups, Bible studies, or children’s activities.

– Push yourself to talk to someone new in stores, restaurants, and other venues. It is amazing what will happen when you compliment another person or ask them an engaging question. Even the simple act of saying thank you to a service provider will go a long way.

Take Away:

We all need strong social connections to be happy, healthy, and to live longer, and it is something we can do. We reap friendship when we sow it.

[1] See Readers Digest, February 2015, The Island Where People Forget to Die by Dan Buettner.