Why social connections really are a matter of life and death

America's loneliness epidemic must be confronted. There's much to be gained by fostering social connectivity, from boosting our immune systems to potentially reducing extremism.

Andrew Horn: The reason that I’m so passionate about conversation and meaningful communication is because of this thing called the connection crisis. And I am not being hyperbolic when I call it a crisis.

So AARP did a study in 1970 and they found out that 20 percent of their members identified as being lonely. They did that same study again in 2010, and the number had more than doubled to 45 percent—45 percent of their members that were identifying as lonely.

So the General Social Survey came out a few years ago and it found out that the most common response when people were asked, “How many friends do you have?”—wait for it—zero. Zero. That number has tripled over recent decades. Imagine going through life without a single confidant. And this dearth of relationships is not just making us sad, it’s literally making us sick. It is killing us. Because what happens when we have weak social ties? We have increased inflammation; it decreases the body’s natural immune response.

There was a recent meta-analysis of 300,000 patients and it found that having weak social ties was as harmful to your health as being an alcoholic, and twice as harmful as having obesity. So these wild things are happening, but so often people are left to their own devices to figure out how to communicate, how to connect.

We spend 15 years studying something like social studies and we don’t even spend 15 minutes on social skills.

And communication is the fundamental building block of creating these important relationships, which are so important for our personal lives and also our professional success. So that’s why we need to be intentional about communication, because with a little bit of practice and a little bit of focus anyone can connect more deeply with the people they meet and the people they love.

And when you think about that, if you don’t have friends that is what opens you up for extremism; it’s that when you don’t belong you will do anything to belong, you know what I mean? So that's why providing frameworks for people to connect is such a vital thing.

In the last few decades, the number of close friendships in America has dropped. Between 1985 and 2004, the General Social Survey reported that the average number of confidants Americans felt they could talk to about important matters in their lives fell from 2.94 to 2.08. Worse still, 25% of people surveyed responded with "zero". Andrew Horn, CEO and co-founder of Tribute, calls this the connection crisis: "This dearth of relationships is not just making us sad, it’s literally making us sick," he says. "There was a recent meta-analysis of 300,000 patients and it found that having weak social ties was as harmful to your health as being an alcoholic, and twice as harmful as having obesity." To turn this worrying trend around, Horn hopes we can become more intentional about communication. Social skills are foundational to our success, both personal and professional; why don't we teach it in schools at the same time as other core skills like math, science, and English? The benefits go beyond our personal wellbeing; Horn believes it could make society safer. "If you don’t have friends, that is what opens you up for extremism. It’s that when you don’t belong you will do anything to belong," Horn says. Andrew Horn is the CEO and co-founder of Tribute.

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