Much ado is made of the importance of diet, exercise, sleep and lack of stress in order for us to age healthfully. What is less known is the impact that community has on us psychologically. According to research, our connections with others greatly impact both our physical and mental health. “We are stronger when we come together,” Sebastian Junger writes in, “Tribe.” He warns, however, that in America, “we are rich enough as a society to not need each other much,” and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
In a 1979 study on civil violence from the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, the authors concluded that, “When people are actively engaged in a cause their lives have more purpose which results in an improvement in their mental health.” (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0022399979900515) This is one explanation for why both suicides and terrorist rampages decline during wartime and natural disasters.
The “Nun Study” begun in the 1980’s, found that social connections with others could actually overshadow physiological realities. An elder nun whose brain showed significant Alzheimer’s disease and plaque lesions exhibited almost no cognitive impairment during her lifetime. Yet, another nun with only minor pathology was highly dysfunctional. The difference? The first nun had a vast network of social connections while the second had none. (https://www.psychiatry.umn.edu/research/research-labs-and-programs/nun-study)
In the last 40 years, I have lived in seven states and 10 cities. Each time that I move, I begin connecting. I visit the police station, post office, library, supermarket, attend churches, local events and join the gym. I am always looking for trustworthy, simpatico comrades of both sexes. In hindsight, I was building my tribes without even realizing it! Above is a photo from my recent birthday party. While I’ve known three of these women for more than 50 years, the others I just met in the last two. However, I believe that every one of them would take me in or bail me out of jail if necessary and I would do the same for them.
So who is in your ‘tribe’? Who are, “The people around you that you would both help feed and defend,” asks Junger? Who has your best interest at heart and brings out your highest self? Your answer may not even include your own family. Without these social networks, Junger says that we are just, “dead inside.” So, whether you are 17 or 70, it is never too late to start building your own tribe. Remember, all friends were once total strangers.