5 Life Lessons People Learn Too Late

Strong relationships make for a rich life, but we're often mistaken in the ways we pursue them.

By Elizabeth Svoboda from Psychology Today
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine February 2014

don't wait handJoel Holland for Reader’s Digest
Lesson #4:
Social Networks Matter

We’ve all heard the usual advice for living longer: Exercise, don’t smoke, limit junk food. But friendships are just as important. “The higher the quantity and quality of your relationships, the longer you’ll live,” says Bert Uchino, a psychologist at the University of Utah.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University collected data from 148 studies analyzing the relationship between health and human interaction. She found that, over a period of about seven years, people with active social lives were 50 percent less likely to die of any cause than their nonsocial counterparts. A low level of social interaction has the same negative effect as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Psychologist Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University gave subjects nasal drops containing a cold virus; those who reported the greatest diversity of social ties were four times less likely to develop colds than those reporting the least diversity. But the quality of your relationships is just as important, according to Uchino’s research. He recorded the blood pressure of 88 women in a stressful situation (preparing to give a speech) and found that readings spiked less when a close friend was there to offer encouragement. Researchers speculate that the stress associated with weak social support sets off a cascade of damaging reactions. Knowing your friends have your back can help prevent such responses, Cohen says.