Sometimes we don’t recognize what we have until it’s gone. Never has this been more true than in 2020 as we have adjusted and adapted to change and loss. If there’s one thing we’ve learned this year, it’s the importance of remaining socially connected, even if physically separated. 

Mental health research this year has shown that our emotional wellbeing is at an all-time low. In a recent study by Gallup, 27% of Americans reported feeling sad the previous day, an increase from 23% in 2019. In a similar study, Gallup asked participants if their health was excellent, good, only fair, or poor. The excellent and good rating dropped to 78% from the traditional 81-89% reported since polling began in 2001. The only group to improve their mental health were those who attended religious services weekly. The importance of remaining socially connected may be attributed, at least in part, to this uptick in the mental health of those who connected with others through faith communities across the United States.

Staying socially connected, as observed by faith communities, does not mean having to physically gather with other people. Many religious organizations shifted to remote gatherings for the bulk of 2020, and many continue to use this as their only platform for connecting. While in-person gatherings may be more impactful, the importance of remaining socially connected rises above physical togetherness. 

Here’s what we know about the importance of remaining socially connected. 

Quality of life improves

When we are in relationship with others, we are more likely to report a higher quality of life and less feelings of being lonely. Loneliness and social isolation leads to higher levels of depression and anxiety, as well as complex physical problems that result from these conditions. The UCLA Loneliness Scale is one way to determine an individual’s current quality of life. A person’s subjective view of their life and answers to this assessment shows the importance of remaining socially connected, or at least feeling understood and in relationship with others. 

Longer lifespan

The American Psychological Association has equated the lack of social connection to the health equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Since our physical health and mental health are significant elements of our overall wellbeing, the importance of remaining socially connected remains high. When we are connected to others, our mental health improves and our physical health follows as well. This combination leads to a 50% increase in longevity and the ability to survive the rigors of life.

Increased happiness

We have an innate need to be in relationship with one another. People can be our biggest source of joy and our greatest source of pain. Good, healthy relationships increase our happiness and improve our mental health. In an interesting study in Germany, participants who had at least one social goal for the year were more likely to follow through on their goal and report a higher level of life satisfaction at follow-up. The importance of remaining socially connected is highlighted in our increased happiness, alongside our improved health and longevity.

Whether we are gathering in person or not, the importance of remaining socially connected is indicated through improvements in our physical, emotional, and relational wellbeing when we connect to others. As the year draws to a close and we prepare with hope that the new year will bring renewed opportunities to connect, seek connection with others however you can and reap the mutual benefits we all need.