As a species, human beings have evolved to seek out and enjoy social interaction. To survive, our ancestors often had to socialize, form alliances, and cooperate with one another. As a result, we have an inbuilt desire to make connections and to feel as though we “belong.”
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the science-backed reasons why being social is good for you, including the health benefits of socializing.
- Why being social is important
- Benefits of being more social
- How to be more social
- Common questions
For most people, social interaction is critical for general well-being. Most of us find isolation emotionally painful. A lack of social interaction can also increase your risk of mental and physical health problems.
Socializing can maintain or improve your general well-being, health, happiness, and job satisfaction.
Research shows that socializing and building relationships with other people has significant physical health benefits, including:
Low social support is linked with higher levels of inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can contribute to many serious diseases, including diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and cancer.
However, the quality of your social interactions makes a difference to your cardiovascular health. For example, a study that tracked participants’ blood pressure for 24 hours discovered that people who reported more pleasant social interactions had lower average blood pressure.
Research shows that people with the largest social networks tend to have a higher pain tolerance. During positive social interactions, your brain releases “feel-good” chemicals called endorphins, which boost your mood and make you less sensitive to pain.
Social support can also have a direct effect on how we feel pain and how we cope with it. For example, people with fibromyalgia (a condition that causes chronic pain) are less sensitive to pain under lab conditions when their partners are with them. People living with chronic pain report lower levels of depression and lower pain intensity if they have a higher level of social support.
Being social can help you stay sharp as you age. Seniors who are satisfied with their social networks and take part in regular social activities are more likely to have better cognitive skills than those who aren’t socially active.
This might be because when you socialize, your brain practices several skills, including memory retrieval and language.
Building up these skills in middle age may delay or prevent dementia in later life because it improves your “cognitive reserve,” which is your brain’s ability to compensate for damage or decline. People with better cognitive reserve may have fewer symptoms if they develop a neurodegenerative disease that can affect their ability to think or remember, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s important to note that encountering hostility and aggressiveness can harm rather than help cognitive function—the quality of your relationships matters. Research has found that frequent negative interactions can increase the risk of mild cognitive impairment in older adults.
Research has shown that people with weaker social networks and less social support are more likely to develop dementia.
For example, a study with elderly women found that those who had close friendships and strong family ties were less likely to develop dementia compared to women who had less social contact. Other research suggests that for both men and women, social integration can reduce risk the of Alzheimer’s disease.
People with strong social connections tend to have healthier habits, such as eating a good diet and exercising, if their relations and peers model positive behaviors.
For example, if you want to get fitter, taking part in group exercise can be more beneficial than working out alone. This may be because their encouragement can motivate you.
Because socializing can improve your physical health, it isn’t surprising that people with strong social networks tend to live longer. Research shows that being social can reduce your risk of premature death, and a lack of social relationships can have a greater influence on mortality than lack of exercise and obesity.
Perhaps one of the most obvious positive effects of being social is that it can boost your mood. Research shows that simply talking to other people usually makes us happy.
However, the type of conversations you enjoy may depend on your personality. Compared to extroverts, introverts feel more connected to other people when they have in-depth conversations.
Loneliness is a subjective feeling that you don’t belong, don’t fit in, or don’t have as much social contact as you would like. It’s important to note that loneliness isn’t the same as being alone. It’s possible to be surrounded by people yet still feel lonely. Socializing can help you build bonds with other people, which in turn can reduce loneliness.
Feelings of loneliness are associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. It can also have a negative effect on your physical health. For example, one study found that loneliness is linked to higher blood pressure and lower sleep quality in older adults.
There is a close link between social contact and mental health. Being social may reduce your risk of mental illness, and a lack of social contact can worsen mental health problems.
For example, there is a two-way relationship between social isolation and depression. Having few social connections can increase the likelihood that someone will become depressed, and people who are depressed tend to be less socially active, which can make their symptoms worse.
Research shows that close friendships are linked with better self-esteem.
Socializing is the first step to forming friendships, which are a key source of social support in times of need.
Social support comes in several forms:
- Instrumental (practical) support, e.g., helping you move house or giving you a lift to the airport.
- Emotional support, e.g., listening and offering comfort following a bereavement.
- Informational support, e.g., giving advice about dog training based on their experience raising a puppy.
- Appraisal, (positive feedback about your personal qualities or performance) e.g., congratulating you on an exam result.
Social support can act as a buffer against stress. Research shows that receiving social support lowers the amount of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress) in your body.
High cortisol levels can put you at risk of psychological and physical health problems, including depression, muscle tension, sleep problems, weight gain, and problems with memory and concentration.
Because social support can shield you from stress, it can help you cope with life’s challenges. For example, research shows that people going through divorce tend to cope better with the sense of loss that comes with the end of a marriage if they feel well-supported by other people.
Social support can also lower your risk of professional burnout. In one study, social workers who received informational and instrumental support from their colleagues were less likely to burn out or suffer work-related stress.
Finally, social support may affect outcomes in cancer patients. Women diagnosed with breast cancer have higher survival rates if they have close social connections.
Socializing at work can help you build better relationships with your coworkers, which in turn can make your job more enjoyable. People who have a best friend at work are more productive, more satisfied with their jobs, and report higher general well-being.
Socializing with people from different backgrounds can make you more tolerant and less prejudiced.
Try to keep an open mind when you meet new people. Most of us are quicker to make friends with people we think are “like us,” but we can make an effort to look beyond first impressions and get to know someone as an individual.
In general, the following steps will help you make friends and expand your social circle:
- Find people who share your interests, for example, by attending meetups that are based around a shared hobby.
- Take the initiative by making small talk, finding commonalities, and inviting people to hang out.
- Slowly get to know your new friends better by spending time together and opening up.
- Maintain your friendships by reaching out, catching up, and arranging to meet. If face-to-face contact isn’t possible, keep in touch by phone or social media.
- See your social skills and social life as an ongoing project. For most people, the more they practice, the more confident they become around others. Start small if you are very anxious. It can help to set yourself some social goals. For example, try smiling at a couple of strangers or saying “Hi” to someone at work.
Remember that it can take months to become close friends with someone, but you can still benefit from socializing with them while building a bond.
We have several in-depth guides that will help you develop your social skills and make new friends:
- How to make friends (from “Hi” to hanging out)
- How to make friends when you have none
- How to improve your social skills—the complete guide
If you don’t have many opportunities to make friends in person, you may be able to make friends online. Check out our guide to making friends online for in-depth advice.
However, research shows that socializing in person triggers more positive feelings than socializing remotely via the internet or phone, so try meeting people face to face if possible.
Although being social is generally good for you, negative social interactions and unhealthy relationships can take a toll on your health. For example, regular conflicts in a friendship can cause significant stress.
When you get to know someone better, you might find that they aren’t a good friend for you. For example, they may be negative or passive-aggressive. It’s important to know when to walk away from unhealthy relationships. Our guide to toxic friends explains how to spot red flags.
You can encourage a friend to socialize more by inviting them out. If they have social anxiety, you could also encourage them to seek help for their condition. However, you cannot force someone to change, and you may come across as controlling if you try.
According to a study including 38 countries, people have 6 hours of social contact per week on average and are generally satisfied with their social relationships. But individual preferences vary; some people have a greater desire for solitude than others.
Some people are naturally more social than others, but for optimal well-being, most of us need social interaction on a regular basis. A lifestyle with very little social interaction is likely to harm your mental and physical health.