The Beatles were right: we do indeed get by with a little help from our friends.
Strong personal relationships and feeling connected to community aren’t just nice ideas – they have a real impact on the quality of our lives. People who have close friends and confidants, friendly neighbors and supportive co-workers are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness and low self-esteem, and have fewer problems related to eating and sleeping.
Most of us experience stress from time to time. We’re busy people juggling many responsibilities and challenges. In these times of stress, the number and quality of social ties that we have directly our impact our ability to successfully handle that stress. That’s because close and supportive interpersonal relationships help discourage negative coping behaviors like substance use, self-harm and violence, and in turn, encourage positive coping behaviors, like exercise, writing, and talking about problems.
Robert D. Putnam expressed this idea in his groundbreaking book Bowling Alone that “…Happiness is best predicted by the breadth & depth of one’s social connections.” This level of “connectedness” takes many forms in many different spheres of life, including our families, peer relationships, neighborhood, schools, workplaces and organizations.
There are many ways that positive, supportive relationships have a lasting impact on mental wellness. For example, the connection between teenagers and their parents and families is associated with lowered drug use and suicidal behavior, especially among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. The Family Acceptance Project highlights this link.
Feeling like we fit in and have a place in the world is a universal human need. Strong connections can increase a person’s sense of belonging to a group, and a sense of personal value or worth. Stronger connections to others naturally help us gain access to larger networks of support. To highlight this point, the more connected students feel toward their school, the more likely they’ll perform better in the classroom, have better school attendance, and stay in school longer, and the less likely that they’ll participate in harmful behaviors, such as smoking, abusing alcohol and other drugs, and using violence.
This is all to say that the more robust our connections are to each other and to our communities, the happier and healthier we’ll be.
And in that spirit, we all have a responsibility to take care of each other. Get to know your neighbors. Give that friend you haven’t seen in a while a call or drop them an email. Meet up with a friend or family member you’ve been meaning to see. Let them all know that you’ve been thinking about them. You never know the positive impact you might have – on yourself as well as on them.
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