The idea of man as a social animal prescribes that humans derive pleasure and happiness from interacting with others. But, as a new study suggests, that’s not where it ends: We’re not only social but “pro-social” beings, meaning that doing things with others for others makes us happier, and helps us to better deal with crises on a societal level.
In the face of adversity, strong communities that stay together thrive better, according to the study, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. Researchers from the University of British Columbia found associations between a country or community’s “social capital” — meaning its level of social engagement and networks — and how it fares in economic crisis.
For the study, researchers examined the social capital of 255 metro areas in the U.S. They found that the more social engagement the communities had and the higher their happiness levels, the less their “life evaluations” were affected by rising rates of unemployment.
Researchers also examined happiness levels in countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in 2008, when the financial crisis was occurring. They found links between happiness and social capital, in the midst of financial crisis. The researchers wrote in the study:
The group with falling happiness included those countries worst hit by the original crisis, and by its subsequent spillovers in the Euro zone. We saw that average happiness drops were far greater than could be explained by their lower levels of GDP per capita, suggesting that social capital and other key supports for happiness were damaged during the crisis and its aftermath.
Meanwhile, researchers noted that in Korea, which had adopted well-being-promoting policies, increases in happiness were even greater than researchers could have predicted by income increases. These findings suggest “improvements in the quality of the social fabric, possibly linked to the shift towards a policy orientation more closely linked to well-being,” they wrote in the study.
An extensive body of research has also linked social support systems to significant health benefits on the individual level. Community and familial ties can reduce stress levels and boost immune system functioning, and may increase longevity as much as quitting smoking, among other physical and mental health advantages.
“Community is a real huge marker on aging,” Dr. Kathleen Hall, stress expert and founder of the Mindful Living Network, told the Huffington Post in March. “People who have an active social life delay memory loss tremendously; they’re much healthier.”
And past research shows that strong social ties could be the key to “willing” yourself to have more positive emotions, too — which could in turn boost health.
“The daily moments of connection that people feel with others emerge as the tiny engines that drive the upward spiral between positivity and health,” the researcher of that study, Barbara Fredrickson, of the University of North Carolina, said in a statement.
For more ways social ties are good for us, click through the slideshow: