Social health: Friends and family can make all the difference

Four friends are seen from the back as they sit on the end of a dock on a sunny day.

Good relationships with friends and family do more than just enrich your social life—research shows they are key to a person’s overall health and wellness, specifically their social wellness.

A team at Stanford University, led by Dr. Catherine Heaney, an associate professor of psychology and medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, interviewed 100 people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds about “levels of well-being.”

While their responses were scattered across several categories, including physical health, spirituality and mental health, Heaney said social connectedness was the dominant topic.

Need for social connectedness is universal

People talked most about the extent to which they were well-integrated into the social fabric of their community—with their loved ones, their family and friends,” she said in an interview for Stanford’s Be Well program.

Heaney said the finding makes sense because “relationships offer support, comfort, belonging—all the important human needs.”

A group of friends take a selfie at an outdoor dinner party.

Even the World Health Organization recognizes the importance of social wellness, including it in its official definition of health: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

So how do you improve your social wellness? Here are a few signs you’re doing it right, according to experts.

Are you having fun?

Doing things you enjoy with others helps feed relationships.

Keep in touch with friends

Making time for friends and family keeps those connections healthy.

Balancing personal boundaries

Spending time with others is healthy, but so is personal time. Find that healthy balance.

A woman is propped up on pillows near a corner of windows wearing an Artistry Signature Select Mask and reading a book. A cup of coffee sits nearby.

Effective communication skills

Always work toward open communication, trust and conflict management. That can be a challenge for some, but the rewards are worth it.

Be yourself

Feeling comfortable with yourself in all situations is key. If you have to change into a different person around others, than your social wellness may not be all that well.

Being open to new relationships

Engaging with others in your community and showing respect for differences can expand your social networks.

Ongoing research

Heaney’s research on wellness is part of a larger study at Stanford. The Wellness Living Laboratory (WELL) is a first-of-its-kind study to target the various components of wellness and their effect on long-term wellness and healthy aging.

It is funded in part by a $10 million unrestricted gift from Amway.

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