Social isolation is more harmful to our health than cigarettes; alcohol, obesity etc combined which is one of the reasons why today, I am thankful for all my friends. The human brain is wired to be social and by cooperating together and having the capacity to think and feel, humans have evolved to be the most advanced beings on Earth. Watching some reality television shows and you may dispute this and yes, some animals appear to be catching up with us. I will be first in the queue to have a chat with a dolphin.
Sorting plastic animals into tubs was the initial experience that bonded my oldest school friend and I, aged five years old in Mrs Robertson’s class. Little did our teacher know that this seemingly innocuous (and rather pointless) task would start a life-long friendship. I have got to know other friends in equally bizarre circumstances. This includes being thrown together in squalid university accommodation where there was no lounge or television, so we discussed the meaning of life (well, sex really) from sitting on the stairs in the hallway instead (whilst carefully avoiding the plates of discarded falafel* from one of our fellow inmates). In addition, randomly sitting next to each other at a lecture; clubbing at glamorous West End bars with ropes and posts for the guest list and a scowling door military armed with clipboards – and the power to make or break your fun night out together. When seeking a new housemate in my twenties, one friend knows that she was the most normal one out of the bunch who viewed the room!
Having close friends is good for my brain as it likes to know that it is part of the ‘in’ group and support it to be in a towards state (see Day 03) and therefore, more likely to achieve peak performance in everyday tasks. Conversely, the opposite away state of a vigilant brain could be advantageous around enemies, although if you keep that up for too long you won’t have any of them either. Cyberball is a game that neuroscientists use to demonstrate that even when a computer decides to exclude us from a simple online game of catch, our brain will react as if we are experiencing actual physical pain. Hence, our intuitive use of phrases such as being “kicked in the stomach” and “heart break”.
Lifestyle changes can give the illusion of making it more difficult; nevertheless, I enjoy maintaining good friend relationships from primary school, university and my career. A vast network of acquaintances and colleagues also positively contribute to my world. Like most relationships, it is our shared values and interests that bring us together – and our intimate secrets. Social media or telephone/Skype communication is a poor substitute for developing and keeping real friendships and organising events from parties to walks ensures that the connection is sustained. As far as the brain is concerned this is literal and thereby so important. Thank you, to all my fabulous friends.
*To this day, falafel is not a foodstuff that I favour.