What are friends for? Keeping you alive, apparently.
Research shows that the our relationships are healthful and that social isolation has metabolic consequences. Of course, this means a complete reshuffling of our busy agendas to prioritize connections with others, and, by the way, some argue Facebook time may not be the medicine actual face time is. It's a deep thought, but reaching out to the lonely could well be a curative act.
Make a pal, save a life.
What the experts say
"We just finished a study that shows loneliness runs in families, as does health. There's a suggestion that family resemblance for loneliness may at least partially explain why health problems also run in families. I use the analogy of trying to keep an appointment but being unable to find your car keys. That's a taxing state of mind to be in. For most of us it disappears once we find our keys. Lonely people are perpetually in that state. There is data showing it's a risk factor, like cigarette smoking, a high-fat diet or a sedentary lifestyle."
CHRIS SEGRIN, professor of communication, University of Arizona, Tucson
"All social relationships are predictive of longevity. Strong family relationships, marriage relationships and a child-parent bond tend be the strongest predictors. The implications are that you should foster your social life as much as your physical well-being. You can't neglect the people around you in your workplace and not have that affect you over the long term. Hospitals should facilitate visiting so patients receive as much support as they can. People who jog in groups tend to jog longer and for many more years than people who attempt to do it on their own. We're wired for connectivity, and science hasn't really taken that implication to its fullest."
TIMOTHY SMITH, professor of counseling psychology, Brigham Young University, Salt Lake City, Utah
"There's a technique called Hello Friend. When you're meeting somebody, in the privacy of your own mind, try to think of them as an old friend. That warms you up a bit. People pick up on each other's signals. Your smile becomes nicer, a bit more sincere. I highly advise going early to any gathering. If you are one of the first three people at a party, naturally you have built-in people to talk to there. You're not walking into a room and freaking out that there are 20 people you don't know. A way to stay in touch is to ask for a recommendation on something like a good film or where to buy a computer. The whole point of that is to set up a reason to contact them again."
LEIL LOWNDES, author, How To Talk To Anyone, New York City
"In moments of stress, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis gives you extra cortisol. We want to make sure the HPA axis functions properly across your entire lifespan. The last thing you want to do is use it too often. We looked at the activity level of the HPA axis when children had a negative experience. We found that if they were with a friend when they had the experience, there was less activation of the HPA axis. Friendship moderates the activity of one of the body's basic forms of psychophysiology. This probably explains why it is that friended people have better mental health than the unfriended. Schools should be teaching what you need to do to maintain friendships."
WILLIAM BUKOWSKI, professor of psychology, Concordia University, Montreal
"We found that something like 97 per cent of Facebook friends are people you have met offline or know offline. We also found that the people who use Facebook the most actually have a larger number of close, intimate friends than those who use it less or not at all. As we go off to university, change jobs, leave our neighbourhood, traditionally we would abandon these social ties. But social networking services make those ties persistent, meaning they stick with you in some way for a very long time. You're also surrounded by a constant feed of little bits of tiny information that comes from your Facebook friends. It's not what we call a rich medium of interaction, like face to face, but many tiny pieces of hay make a pretty big haystack over time."
KEITH N. HAMPTON, professor of communication, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey