Chapter 7

Wellbeing Begins with “We”

The Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Interventions that Increase Social Closeness

Bethany E. Kok and Barbara L. Fredrickson

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, U.S.A.

Social closeness is an important contributor to psychological and physical wellbeing. Whether conceptualized as a fundamental psychological need (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Deci & Ryan 2000), a bodily nutrient (Beckes & Coan, 2011), or a critical element in stress and coping (Lakey & Orehek, 2011), there is a general scientific consensus that humans function better when they feel close to others.

We define social closeness as a belief or perception about a person's degree of embeddedness in a social network or networks. In this formulation, social closeness may or may not be related to actual behaviors from relationship partners: what matters is the individual's perception of their relationships with others. In addition, social closeness is not limited to close relationships. Any interaction that reminds someone that they belong can increase social closeness.

Without social closeness, human beings seem to break down, with both mental and physical systems showing accumulating deficits over time. Adults with low levels of social closeness are more likely to become depressed (Glass, de Leon, Bassuk, & Berkman, 2006) and to suffer from inadequate nutrition (Locher et al., 2005) and a number of physical health issues. In a 3-year longitudinal sample of older adults ranging ...

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