As discussed in the last chapter, we are by nature highly social animals. It is not surprising, then, to find that the social support we experience relates closely to all kinds of health indicators. Indeed, it seems that social support can carry as powerful an effect as a history of smoking or a high cholesterol level (though in opposite directions: social support has a positive effect). This important role seems to be amplified in situations where people encounter difficulty in their lives, such as those experienced on 9/11:
People expressed many different reactions to the events of September 11th, 2001. Some of these reactions were clearly negative, such as political intolerance, discrimination, and hate crimes …other reactions were more positive. For example, people responded by donating blood, increasing contributions of time and money to charity, and flying the American flag.1
Although there is reason to believe that as we get older we are content with smaller social networks, this does not appear to alter the importance of having adequate social support. That is, it is the quality of social support that matters, as measured by its capacity to meet our basic social needs (for a sense of belonging, an emotional connection, etc.).
This chapter builds on the material in the previous chapter by exploring a fascinating range of support situations that are of special relevance to retirees: social support, where we live, tourism, and religion (and related ...