The Science behind Relationships
Throughout this series, we have been talking about loneliness and the importance of mental health. Last week, we talked about the importance of community. This week, we’re going to be talking about the science of relationships, why they matter, and how they can play a role in our overall mental health. Several studies have been conducted on the importance of creating close and meaningful relationships. This research revealed that having close and meaningful relationships in one’s life leads to a 50% decreased risk of overall mortality.
That’s a jarring statistic. This study revealed that having meaningful relationships can improve overall health and increase lifespan by a significant margin when compared with individuals who do not have these such relationships.
More than likely, you’ve heard of or experienced an older couple who both maintain good health for most of their lives. However, when one of these individuals declines and later passes away, even if the other is in good health when all of this happens, it is not uncommon that they also decline significantly and later pass away within a short period of time. When we look at this phenomenon from the perspective of how close and meaningful relationships affect overall health it appears to make sense.
Meaningful relationships give people a reason to live. This consequently allows them to have a long, happy and fulfilled life as long as they have them and can conversely cause their life and health to decline significantly should the most important relationship(s) in their life cease to be present.
The correlation between relationships and happy lives
Building meaningful relationships causes release of oxytocin – the love hormone. This hormone is the reason we get butterflies in our stomach and feel happy and excited while we’re in the presence of the people we love. Oxytocin furthermore causes decreases in overall levels of cortisol – the stress hormone. Cortisol is known to increase blood pressure, increase resting heart rate, and even increase overall levels of inflammation throughout the body, putting stress on the cardiovascular system over time. This can therefore increase risk of cardiovascular disease and chronic disease throughout the body. Therefore, as oxytocin serves to decrease overall cortisol levels, it serves to reverse all of these health concerns improving overall health as well as quality of life.
So, in recognizing why close relationships are so important for our overall health, in doing an audit of your own life, you may reflect that you don’t have significant close relationships in your life currently. If this is the case, we want to offer some words of encouragement and tips for how to establish meaningful relationships given their significance in our overall health. We emphasized the principles of Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy throughout this series over the past couple of weeks. These principles encompass the reality that ‘you are best able to serve the person you once were.’
Meaning – one of the most impactful ways to establish purpose in one’s own life is to serve individuals whose experiences with trauma and pain are similar to that of our own. Previously we have emphasized that reflecting on our own lives and what we have overcome provides us with tools to serve other people who may be walking through challenging circumstances personally, professionally and through volunteering.
In doing this personal reflection, you may also recognize the significant role that a parent, teacher, coach or mentor may have played in cultivating your life at a young age. In understanding how relationships play a role in our overall health and well-being, this applies to the health, growth and healing of children in particular. It is so important for children to feel loved and to have parents, mentors and role-models who pour into their lives. The trauma, hurt, and brokenness that they are surrounded by can be cultivated in the opposite direction through mentors who seek to show them something different. Kids don’t need a perfect parent or a perfect mentor – they just need a mentor, a parent, a role-model who chooses to invest in them, to love them and to cultivate them no matter what.
Studies have shown that children who do not have a healthy parent or role-model who invests in them early on tend to have chronic mental and physical health conditions throughout the rest of their lives. Therefore, we all have a role to play in cultivating young individuals in our community. Institutions like Foster Care and the Boys and Girls Club are examples within our community where there is always a need for adults to pour into the lives of young people.
So, if you are struggling to establish meaningful relationships within your own life and are looking to invest in others – invest in some kids! This not only provides the opportunity for meaningful connection, but further can positively impact your own life given the principles of Logotherapy that we have outlined throughout this series. This provides the ability to find a redemptive quality within your own suffering and to invest in community through serving something bigger than yourself. This further emphasizes the principle that the best way to feel better on your worst days is to practice gratitude and to serve others.
Overall, we hope that this video series has provided you with some helpful insight into the significance of mental health, the importance of community and the value of close and meaningful relationships. We further hope that this series has inspired you to plug in, to give back and to serve others within a community bigger than yourself!