We take an interdisciplinary approach to community building at Our Blocks, and since a little science never really hurt anyone, here are some pertinent excerpts from notes I took during a recent seminar led by Dacher Keltner of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.
Eight ways community building can be good for you
1. It increases your social connection
In almost every study of children and adults, meaningful social connections foster greater positive emotion, personal well-being, and physical health. Social connectedness is probably the most important determinant of overall well-being. Factoids: a study in Alameda County by Berkman and Smye showed that people who reported weak social support were up to 3.1 times more likely to have died nine years later. Okay, that’s a bummer. How about this: People with strong social support live longer, report greater happiness, have lower levels of cortisol, and lower blood pressure. Since community builders are all about building social connections, your eternal life and happiness are guaranteed.
2. It gives you more opportunities to play
Play boosts the immune response. Play is a human universal, and it builds strong bonds. Converting conflicts into dramas and play is beneficial to relationships.
3. It’s all about giving
New studies show that people derive greater pleasure in giving than in receiving. Giving activates reward centers in the brain. A study by Elizabeth Dunn found that giving away $20 makes people happier than spending $20 on themselves. Habaugh et al reported that giving to a charity produces the same activation in the ventral striatum as does receiving.
4. It gives you more chances to say thanks
Gratitude fosters personal health and healthy relations. Appreciation for loved ones uniquely relates to social well-being. Saying ‘Thank you’ greatly increases the stability of relationships. Gratitude increases worker productivity. Also makes you richer: servers who said Thank You or wrote it on receipts got 11% more tips than those in the control group. (Don’t get your hopes up: no one will ever tip you for community building)
5. It gives you lots of chances to forgive (and to beg forgiveness)
Forgiveness reduces the physiological costs of stress and conflict, and can promote healthier bonds. When you do screw up and need to apologize to your community, here are the four key elements of a proper apology: (a) state what you did wrong, (b) accept responsibility, (c) offer an explanation, (d) show remorse.
6. It’ll give you stories to tell
We have a scientific mind and then a meaning-making mind that is predisposed to tell stories (Bruner). We transmit emotional conditions through storytelling. Emotion narratives build up resilience. Writing about deep emotions increases well-being and improves health (f.e by improving the immune function), and reduces stress-related physiology. It does this mainly by improving insight and avoiding the costs of suppression. True story: trauma victims who wrote down their stories (vs just recounting facts), had higher t-cell counts, better immune response, lower anxiety, better grades, and more positive emotions.
7. It will make you wish you knew how to meditate
Breathing techniques can lower blood pressure. With eight weeks of training in mindfulness meditation (which focuses on attention, breathing, and “loving kindness”) people (including software engineers, if you can believe it) showed shifts in left frontal activation and immune response. Mindful people are in general focused on the present, and report greater optimism, greater well-being, and fewer health symptoms. Core principles of contemplation: (a) awareness of sensations, (b) awareness of mind, (c) extension of loving kindness to all. [Personal side note: I'd tried forever to learn how to meditate, but was a complete failure until I stumbled upon Guided Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn, whose work was cited during this seminar.]
8. It will make you reach for a Higher Power
The sense of the sacred can be found in contemplative practice, nature, art, people, activism. Highly spiritual people report greater happiness, less depression, fare better in terms of health outcomes, and live longer. People with deep and enduring commitments to core values (like equality, respect) fare better in response to stress.
Want more? Another obsessive notetaker who attended the seminar (Natalie, shown on the right) sent me her notes, which I posted on Psychwiki (the conversion from Word to MediaWiki left some formatting lost in translation, so the notes need some cleaning up). The excerpts above come from this section of the notes.
More GGSC on Our Blocks: Compassion, Altruism, and Do-Gooding – from the Greater Good Science Center. More psychology
Take Dacher on the road: download his UC Berkeley lectures on Human Happiness