The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest-running studies about what makes us live long, happy lives, tells us that social connection may be our single greatest need after food and shelter.

According to the Harvard Study, now over 80 years old, embracing community helps us live longer, and be happier.

And close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed.

Similarly, according to Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and author of several #1 New York Times bestsellers including The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly:

A sense of social connection is one of our fundamental human needs.. Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment.

We are hardwired to connect with others.  It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering…We may think we want money, power, fame, beauty, eternal youth or a new car, but at the root of most of these desires is a need to belong, to be accepted, to connect with others, to be loved.

The Harvard study shows that how happy we are in our relationships help us through hardships, strengthen our immune system, and delay mental and physical declines.

The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80, according to Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School as he says in his popular and widely followed TED talk.

On the other hand, according to the Harvard study, lack of social connection over time affects our health more than smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure

The study even suggests that prolonged loneliness can have the same effect on our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

So, it’s not surprising that there’s been a significant increase in loneliness and a decrease in feelings of friendship during the pandemic.

According to recent scientific research, while physical distance has been important during the pandemic, distance within and among relationships can cause undue harm to a person’s mental health and well-being.

Therefore, we should make conscious efforts to form meaningful social connections with others, according to Jon Ebbert, M.D., a Mayo Clinic internal medicine physician and senior author of the study.

At the same time, according to this recent CDC report, unmet mental health needs also increased significantly as record-high rates of people have been unable to find help.  People simply cannot get in to see a therapist, much less a psychiatrist, due to the unprecedented demand.

In these unprecedented times, it is up to us to think of new and creative ways to reach out to our loved ones and others within our families and communities, and beyond.

Just as we might do to stay healthy with diet and exercise, it’s equally, if not more, important to develop and nurture social connections that are so essential for our well-being.

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