Humans are social creatures. We may not all love large groups of people, but we are wired for social connections. For some, that means a big network of friends and family, while others need fewer relationships. Whatever community looks like for you, there are many reasons why social ties are important. Here are ten:
#1. Communities validate interests and identities
Many communities are based on a shared interest, like a TV show, a sport, or another hobby. Communities are also based on identities, like being queer or a parent or an adoptee. Why is this important? Sharing an interest or an identity with a group of people is validating. When people find others like them, a strong sense of safety and understanding can develop.
#2. Positive communities support good mental health
Communities come in many forms, but they are always about people connecting. Studies show a link between healthy, supportive communities and lower rates of loneliness. NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness) lists three aspects of community: a sense of belonging, feeling supported, and having a role to play. Belonging, support, and purpose are important to good mental health.
#3. Community can improve your heart health
Globally, heart disease is the leading cause of death. Having a strong community could provide protection. Years of research reveal a connection between strong social ties and a healthier heart. According to a Harvard Medical School Publishing article, heart attack survivors who score high on social isolation and stress tests are four times more likely to die within three years than survivors with less stress and stronger social connections.
#4. Community can improve your brain health
Research shows that strong social ties could improve brain health. One study from 2000 called “Influence of social network on occurrence of dementia: a community-based longitudinal study” studied 1,203 people living in Sweden. They had good cognition and were followed for an average of 3 years. 176 patients were eventually diagnosed with dementia. When researchers took a closer look, they found that “a poor or limited social network” raised a person’s risk of dementia by 60%. Other studies support loneliness as a risk factor for dementia. Those with strong social networks, however, are less likely to receive a diagnosis.
#5. Community can extend your life
When older adults have strong community ties, they’re more likely to live longer than those who don’t. In a meta-analysis that included over 300,000 participants, authors found a link between healthy friendships and longer lifespans. The average study in this meta-analysis lasted seven years. Participants with stronger social networks were around 45% less likely to die in the study period.
#6. Community influences health behaviors
Behavior is one of the big reasons why health, lifespan, and social ties are linked. “Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy” cites research showing that social ties influence health behavior, such as exercise, diet, smoking, drinking, etc. If you’re part of a community that values exercise, healthy diets, and other positive activities, you are more likely to participate in these healthy, life-extending behaviors.
#7. Community boosts happiness
Happiness is a complex and elusive concept to measure. One person’s idea of happiness can be very different from someone else’s. However, research suggests that social connection is key. In one study with 1,200 Germans, study participants identified their life satisfaction on a 0-10 scale. They then wrote down ideas for maintaining or increasing their happiness. Some participants wrote about social connections, like spending more time with friends or family. Others had more individual-focused goals, like getting a better job. A year later, researchers found that the participants who wrote about improving their social connections became more satisfied with their lives than those who chose more individual goals.
#8. Communities support each other financially
Community doesn’t come with only better health or emotional benefits. There can be financial ones, too. Say that a person opens a bakery. The owner is well-known and liked in their town, which brings lots of customers to their shop. Even people who don’t ordinarily buy baked goods purchase orders for themselves or other friends. Why? People want to support the bakery owner because they’re a member of the community. Tight-knit communities are also more likely to help each other in times of financial crisis.
#9. Community has downsides
We’ve talked at length about the benefits of community, but it’s important to know that there can be downsides. In “Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy,” researchers found that “strained and conflicted social interactions” have negative impacts. As an example, young adults are influenced by their peers when it comes to drinking alcohol. If a community has negative behaviors around alcohol, people are more likely to follow their peers, which would have a negative health impact. Community can be a double-edged sword.
#10. Communities drive social change
Communities have essential impacts beyond the benefits to individuals. Without community-led social movements, it’s hard for anything to change. The most powerful continue with business as usual. Community-led grassroots organizing in places like the United States has led to changes like voting rights for women, gay marriage, and more. There’s strength in numbers. Wherever change is desired, it will be communities – not individuals – that make it a reality.