Monday, December 8, 2008

Share the Joy

In a small town in Eastern Pensylvannia is a group of Italian -Americans who by all appearances should have a rate of heart attacks equal to or greater than the general population. They don't. They don't have heart attacks.

How is this possible? In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, he tells you a theory of why they don't have heart attacks. And it has to do with their social networks and support systems. In this particular community, everyone knows everyone else and are heavily involved in service and business groups. They would appear to have a very large and productive social support. This "mental" support system seems to offer some protection from a physical ailment.

The Wookie was telling me about this the other night as he's become a huge fan of Gladwell. He said a revelation occurred when he realized that everywhere we go, I end up stopping to talk with people, whether they are good friends or on the fringe of my network. I have been known to stop complete strangers and say, "You look familiar. Do I know you?" and I'm almost always greeted with "Yes, we met at such and such a place, or I used to work at the local coffee shop so I probably served you coffee". The Wookie is amazed at the number of people I know.

Admittedly, part of my huge network is because of my job as a radio announcer. Although more people know me than the other way around, I talk individually with a number of people every day on the phone. And I ask questions of them, too, even if they've called a wrong number and got me. (The wrong number callers usually turn out to be really funny) So in a way, I am deliberately expanding my network as I work. I have a list of names and phone numbers of various people I've talked to over the years in my capacity as an announcer, but who may be a future source of information about something in which I am interested. Or who may provide a service I know I will need in the future, like oil changes or the guy who works in the records department for the city, or the woman who works at Statistics Canada, or the woman who works for Parks and Conservation.

I have been chatting with a fellow about twice a week for the past couple of months now who is a driver for a business in town. He calls with traffic tips and sometimes a request for a song. He and I are now Facecrack friends, too, and over the course of our chats he knows about my involvement with the MS Society and will be supporting my fund raising in the new year and hopefully so will his employer. Cool, eh?

The point of all this writing about networking is that I have a huge network. And I'm really a happy person. Does my happiness lead to a larger network? Or does my network lead to my happiness? I don't care. They feed each other.

Speaking with an acquaintance the other day who has some health issues of her own, she said the first time we chatted she was terrified of speaking with me. !! She finds public speaking and meeting new people really difficult. I would never have known this unless she had told me as she came off as smart and funny and someone I'd like to get to know better. She is currently in a difficult legal situation that is exacerbating her physical health and one of the things I suggested she do is expand her social network. And that's exactly what she's been doing recently. When friends invite her out she goes. She's forcing herself to go outside of her comfort zone in order to assist her health and recovery.

A recent study came out about happiness. The more people you know who are happy, the more likely it is that you are happy. And if your friends' friends are happy, that works, too.

Positive social connections seem to have a positive impact on your health by reducing stress or perhaps enabling you to deal with it in a better way. And happiness is contagious.

All this information is important because when we become disabled, from MS or any other chronic illness, we are sometimes shut off socially from our friends or co-workers. It can become a chore to get dressed, cleaned up, and onto a handicapped accessible bus to get to a destination, when before we just jumped in the car. Places we used to go to may not be as easy to maneuver through. Because of financial demands, dinner out with friends may not be feasible. Some folks have to retire early or quit work because of disability and immediately lose that particular social network. So it is vital to maintain what social networks we have already built, as well as encourage others to be formed. Our mental health and sometimes our physical health may depend on it.

In previous posts I have written about the neural connections we make in our brains. Those are actual physical connections from one nerve cell to another, and they are necessary to learn, for memory, and for our physical health. Just as we must work at continuing to make these physical connections through mental and physical exercises, so to must we continue to make and maintain our social connections for mental and physical health.

Or, as I like to say, Share the joy!



Diane J Standiford said...

This is an excellent post. My brother was always "outgoing," he knew evertone it seemed. Much older than me and my mom was very shy. I wanted to be like my brother and forced myself to become a person who only sees new people that are not yet my friends, no strangers. I talk easily to the very rich and poweful and the very poor---makes no difference to me. I am a happier person for sure. HOWEVR, that brother and my mother are not healthy, but...they and I are all happy! There ya go. True I can not see in person all the friends I used to, but I email, blog, call, etc.---aunt Vi,101, ALWAYS had many friends over. I believe in his sudy, though it seems a no-brainer study, really. Funny it is news to some people.

Shauna said...

It was another one of those D'uh studies...but again, what we know by instinct needs to be proven by science for it to have merit. I think that our internet connections possibly have the same weight as people in real life.