The trick? Be friendly.
A review of nearly 150 studies with more than 300,000 participants found that having active social circles decreases your odds of dying at any point in time by 50 percent, regardless of age, gender or medical history.
“The bottom line is, when we’re social, we live longer,” Dr. Kelli Harding, who conducted the review, told Reader’s Digest at a dinner in New York hosted by Nextdoor, the social network for neighborhoods (and a partner with Reader’s Digest for Nicest Places in America). “Loneliness is more of a risk factor to health than other known risk factors, like high blood pressure and obesity.”
The findings are written up in Dr. Harding’s new book, The Rabbit Effect, which is about how kindness, rather than laughter, may be the best medicine. The book derives its title from a famous 1978 study of the relationship between cholesterol and heart health in rabbits. Researchers accidentally discovered that those rabbits that received the most affection from their human handlers lived much longer than the others.
Americans today are not living as long as those who live in other wealthy countries, according to a new study of six decades of mortality data. Life expectancy in the United States has decreased for the past three years. The culprit? So-called “diseases of despair”: suicide, drug overdoses, and liver failure, to name a few.
That’s why Dr. Harding’s findings are more important than ever. We live in a world where most of our social interactions happen through our phones. But to get the health benefits of a more active social circle, you don’t have to throw away your device and join a book club. More casual interactions with neighbors, shop owners, and others you encounter every day can do the trick. Increasingly, those relationships can start online.
That’s where Nextdoor comes in. The company’s stated purpose is “to cultivate a kinder world where everyone has a neighborhood they can rely on.” It does this by giving neighbors a location-based social network to get to know each other, collaborate, and resolve their differences.
“We know that cultivating more casual, low stakes relationships, like those with your neighbors, is often the beginning of something bigger,” wrote CEO Sarah Friar in an open letter to Nextdoor users.
Like in real life, sometimes these interactions don’t go as planned. And on social media, minor conflicts can quickly spin out of control. That’s why Nextdoor recently launched its “kindness reminder” feature. When users are about to leave a rude comment, Nextdoor pauses and reminds them to think about saying something nicer—or not saying anything at all.
Testing over a three-month period showed that when prompted a quarter of people changed their comment to be more positive, and another 25 percent chose not to comment at all.
“Nextdoor feels like a friendlier place now,” said Friar at the dinner in New York, one in an ongoing series Nextdoor hosts to connect users who have been successful at bringing online relationships into the real world. “When you slow people down, they’re thinking instead of reacting, and now we’re seeing the kindness reminder triggered less often.”
When asked for advice on one thing you can do to live longer and happier, given the findings of her study, Dr. Harding said it perfectly, “Be kind. It’s actually pretty amazing how much each person can make the world a better, kinder, healthier place. It really takes very little and you never know the impact you have on somebody.”