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Friendship matters because social isolation is as harmful to people as other well-established risk factors to life, like smoking and obesity.

Being well connected with family, friends and colleagues is a major factor in health and survival. Our sense of wellbeing and happiness, to a large extent, is dependent on the quality of our relationships, but it goes further say researchers: “The quality and quantity of individuals’ social relationships has been linked not only to mental health but also to both morbidity and mortality.”

We are a social species and we rely on others to help us in all aspects of our lives. This includes our identities, sense of purpose, recognition and many of the subtler aspects of our development, as well as more obvious and practical factors. As our increasingly individualistic lifestyle in the West reduces our dependence on others, it also deprives us of the reciprocal demands and the benefits of relationship.

In the UK, according to a 2010 survey by the Mental Health Foundation, 10% of people often feel lonely, a third have a close friend or relative who they think is very lonely, and half think that people are getting lonelier in general. Similarly, across the Atlantic, over the past two decades there has been a three-fold increase in the number of Americans who say they have no close confidants.

Taking care of our relationships may well be the most neglected aspect of our collective lives, whether at home, at work, or in the community. But it’s also the easiest to do something about, if we can only be bothered.

See also:

New York Times: A New Risk Factor: Your Social Life, by Tara Parker-Pope

Researh report: Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316. doi:10.1371 /journal.pmed.1000316

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