Consider the effort and investment placed into events like birthdays, Christmas, Halloween and weddings – it’s massive, and the ratio of preparation time to event time is crazy! But people everywhere seem compelled to get together for special moments. Even on a small scale the process is odd – why go out for coffee when a reasonably good version exists at home?
Socialization, as it’s formally called, produces feelings of happiness, reduces stress, anxiety and depression, and even improves cognitive function, quality of life and longevity. Humans are, by nature, social creatures – in the past we needed each other to increase the likelihood of survival and for the strength that comes from co-operation. So, being with others is a deeply soothing experience on a primal neurological level, creating a sense of safety and confidence.
Socialising also gives us the opportunity to learn and reinforce our identity – the idea we have of who we are. When people move to other countries they often seek-out the company of people from their land-of-origin. At first blush it seems absurd that the English abroad in Spain hunt for the company of those with a familiar accent and who also like sausages for breakfast, having gone to all the trouble of travelling away from home in the first place. However, when considered from a psychological standpoint, it makes sense that they may need to shore-up a sense of identity when surrounded by foreignness that confuses and creates uncertainty; we prefer to feel secure and, in the absence of being in a secure environment, we can bolster that by feel more sure on the inside – our identity.
Whilst people of all ages, genders and personalities derive benefits from interacting with others, there are different needs for social stimuli. Some people, classified as extroverts, need constant social stimulation. Extroverts regularly attend parties and social functions. They thrive on interactions with others; the more talk and action, the better. Introverts, in contrast, need socialization but require time alone as well. Extroverts and introverts derive the same benefits from engaging in social interactions, even though the volume and frequency of mingling with others varies. Both personality types reap the benefits of happiness and the sense of satisfaction derived from engaging in conversations and sharing ideas and opinions with others. Introverts don’t cast their social net so wide, but are more likely to cast it deep – which friends and family will appreciate.
Engaging in small talk generates feelings of happiness, but deep and meaningful conversations produce more. Research suggests that the happiest people have twice as many substantive conversations, and engage in much less small talk, than the unhappiest.
Women benefit from social interaction by caring for others and acting as friends. They even enjoy longer life expectancy from emotional connections and intimate interactions (going to the initial point about soothing the mind-body). More social people of all ages see greater levels of mental and physical activity than less social peers. According to the National Institute on Aging, social stimulation improves health and minimizes cognitive decline among the elderly. Even small doses of human interaction produce results. Activities like group exercise, board games and eating meals with others produce social stimulation and satisfaction.
So, the prescription is clear – making socialising part of your health and well-being intentions… it soothes, brings confidence, and protects the mind and the body. Enjoy your friends knowing it has a profound value both given and received.