The Importance of Community

The importance of community translates into overall personal happiness.  It’s what drives us to live in certain neighborhoods, join team sports and get involved in book clubs.  We’re all seeking to find a group of people with whom we can connect with.

Now science gives us another reason as to why our communities are so important to us.

In 1938 Harvard researchers began the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the world’s longest studies of adult life.  Their research goal was to find out what leads to a healthy, happy life.  For over 80 years they’ve followed the original 238 subjects.  Eventually adding their offspring to the study group, and now the third and fourth generations.

Over the years they studied the participants’ physical health, as well as their personal successes and failures.  They filled out questionnaires, submitted medical records and held hundreds on in-person interviews.

“When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment.  But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.” – Psychiatrist George Vaillant, research lead from 1972-2004

The study found that having strong relationships and friendships are better predictors of living long happy lives.  Over IQ, genetics, social class and money.  Relationships protect people from life’s difficulties and help to delay mental and physical decline.[1]

“Loneliness kills.  It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism” – Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, director of the study.

When the sense of community and relationships are lacking, it leaves one feeling lonely and isolated.  Thus, often leading to depression and social anxiety.  We hear it daily in our psychiatry practice.  People get stuck in routine and it becomes vicious cycle that’s tough to break.  Social isolation can seem easier than walking into your first charity league meeting not knowing anyone.

So, as we are trying to find our new normal with COVID still lingering, start planning on ways to get involved in your community.  Challenge yourself to walk into that church group.  Find a group you’re interested in through meetup.com  Sign up for art class or look into intramural sports in your neighborhood.

Invest in your happiness.  Take the first step to finding your way into a community that will add value, and often years on to your life.

[1] Harvard EDU