We are designed for community. As we discussed last week, one of the clearest examples of living in God’s image is to exist in significant relationships with others. That’s what it means to be a person.
But that’s not just what Scripture says about the matter. It’s what science says as well.
Just at the turn of the century, a new scientific field of study called “relational neuroscience” shows us that our brains and bodies are hardwired to engage in satisfying emotional connections with other people. Get this: Having strong social relationships – or, put simply, having great friends – strengthens the immune system, extends life, speeds recovery from surgery, and reduces the risks of depression and anxiety disorders. Psychologist Amy Banks writes, “Relational neuroscience has been showing that people can’t reach their full potential unless they are in healthy connection with others.”
But even beyond the physical health benefits are the mental benefits, as well. Who we are as individuals are literally shaped by the people we surround ourselves with. Our brains are remarkable social organs that are formed and molded by our experiences and the communities we immerse ourselves in. Dr. Henry Cloud says that “Our relationships help write the ‘code’ of whom we become and are becoming. Relationships have power, for good and for bad” (Cloud, The Power of the Other, 16). But our friendships don’t just form who we are individually; they dramatically impact everything we do in life.
According to Cloud, the quality of our most significant relationships determine:
- How long we live
- Whether we reach our goals or not
- How much money we make
- How well our kids do in school
- How much we trust people
- How we cope with stress and failure
- What kind of mood we’re in
- How much physical pain we experience
- How and what we think
The irony in all of this is that we are told time and time again that we as individuals have control over these things. But it turns out that our relationships, our communities – our friends – play a much more powerful role in simply how we function than we could ever have imagined.
But even beyond the health benefits that friendship brings, those who find themselves connected in significant social networks have a greater sense of meaning and purpose with their lives. Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist, comments that “We are an ultra social species, full of emotions finely tuned for loving, befriending, helping, sharing, and otherwise intertwining our lives with others . . . . and we can’t be happy without having friends and secure attachments to other people.”
Good, significant friendships are essential to being human.
Clearly, we are designed for community—and this is just scratching the surface of the scientific evidence (expect more detailed blogs on this subject matter to come). Every fiber of our anatomy, psyche, and spirituality reflects this characteristic of God’s image to live in community, both with others and God himself.
But here’s the problem: because we are designed for community, then a life that contradicts that design goes against everything of what it means to be human. The consequences of a life steeped in loneliness and isolated are catastrophic.
And our culture is up to its head with it.