Between email, Facebook, and texting, it's easy to stay in touch with our closest friends without taking the time to see them in person. But typing on a keyboard alone in your room isn't the same as spending time with your loved ones--and your personal connections might suffer.
The Research: Connections Matter
In fact, a recent review of over 148 studies suggests that maintaining close ties to friends and family may be beneficial for your health, while loneliness may take a significant toll on your life expectancy. The review, which was published in the journalPlos Medicine, found that those who had strong ties to family and friends improved their survival rate by 50 percent over those who were more isolated and felt lonely.
Making Friendship a Habit
In our busy modern lives, it's not always easy to find time for friendships. Between commitments at work and home, friends may soon drop to the bottom of your priority list. To help make it easier to keep friendships alive, you can bring psychology to your aid. New York Times business writer Charles Duhigg has identified a psychological pattern called a "habit loop" that may assist you in repeating desired behaviors.
Here's how a habit loop works: First, a cue or trigger alerts your brain to a particular behavior. This unleashes a routine, which becomes a habit. Next, your brain receives a reward to help reinforce the habit in the future.
How does this apply to friendships? You can make in-person interactions a habit in your life by building in a cue, routine, and reward for social time.
For example, if you want to socialize more, you might create a cue for this behavior by taking your calendar out each evening at a certain time, such as after dinner. The calendar can become a cue to remind yourself to schedule time with friends or family the next day, or next week. This can kick off a routine of scheduling regular get-togethers. The immediate reward might be the feeling of anticipation you get when you know that you have a fun occasion in your near future.
Once you've gotten into the habit of socializing more through this type of planning, you may reap the long term rewards of having more companionship in your life.
HealthAhead Hint: Don't Go It Alone
While we all need time for solitary pursuits, too much of a good thing may lead to loneliness. Balancing alone time with rewarding social experiences may lead you to feel happier and healthier. Research shows that making social time a priority may be as important to your longevity as making other smart health choices. So add face-to-face get-togethers to your list of healthy habits, alongside exercising, avoiding cigarettes, and eating a well-balanced diet.