What makes a good social life

Why social contacts extend our lives

The four influencing factors

In aging research, a distinction is made between four different ages - subdivided according to the four influencing factors on our aging process.

The calendar age shows our actual years of life. "I'm 63 years old."

The biological age reflects our genetic condition and our way of life. "I eat healthily and exercise regularly."

The felt age reflects the subjective assessment of the years of life. "I am as old as I feel."

The social age is influenced by our social networks and our environment. "I have friends I can call at night."

How important are social networks for our aging process?

Our aging process depends not only on ourselves, i.e. the biological and calendar age, but also on our environment, how we use it, how we live in it and shape it. This also influences our subjective perception of how old we feel. The Need for social belonging we have a lifetime. Younger people tend to have a large social network with loose relationships and older people tend to have closer and meaningful relationships. This of course depends on our lifestyle, attitude to life, forms of living and our biography.

What added value do social contacts have in old age?

Aging research repeatedly confirms that positive social contacts have a life-prolonging effect:

Satisfaction. They ensure more everyday satisfaction and better coping with stress.

Support. Feeling support from friends and family reduces the risk of depression.

Think. Socially integrated people degrade cognitively more slowly than those who live alone.

Rehabilitation. Recovery from illnesses such as stroke and heart attack is faster thanks to social support.

Health. Stable networks are beneficial to health, they increase life expectancy.

In addition, the aging psychologist Hans-Werner Wahl mentions further added values:

Efficiency. »Social relationships are important for maintaining mental performance. In a way, they are a natural training field. "

Creativity. Solving a task together with others encourages creativity in older people.

Network. The (physical) independence is maintained by cultivating contacts.

Understanding. The interaction between the generations promotes an open and open-minded coexistence.

Why do social contacts prolong life?

Social contacts are cognitively challenging. This keeps our brain fit. You permanently avoid negative stress, which shortens life. We also stay physically fit by cultivating friendships (e.g. visits, joint activities).

That is crucial Quality of social relationships and not the quantity. Everyone decides for themselves which social contacts are good for them. A good mix of cross-generational contacts and friendships is helpful. In this way, younger people can challenge and enrich our everyday lives and the losses are lower when older friends die. In this sense, Sven Voelpel correctly quotes Mackey (2000): "Find friends before you need them".

Which contacts we look for is usually determined by the so-called Similarity preference (Similarity Attraction) definitely. We look for people who are similar to us. Same interests, education, occupation, ethnic background, religion, gender and age. It's easy and convenient. However, you are not challenged and cognitively enriched by it. Younger or different people in particular can enrich the togetherness through a variety of topics. "Why do we need more community again today"

The Number of social contactsthat we need for ourselves, we decide for ourselves. It depends on our personality and our curriculum vitae. If we have stayed in one place all our life, we usually have a large network there. But if we have moved often, our network is spread over many places and we travel a lot (digital or mobile) to maintain this network. Our professional life, our financial opportunities for social participation and the socially influenced notions of age (images and stereotypes of old age) also have an impact on our social life.

What does this mean now for us and our aging process?

Sven Voelpel makes a clear appeal to us: Clarify early on what suits you personally and how you imagine your age. Everyone should ask themselves the following questions:

Life models. Would you prefer to live alone or in a community?

Place of residence. "Where do I want to live": in the middle of the city or in the country?

Way of life. Would you like to live organized and autonomous yourself or with the certainty of a reliable institution or community in the background?

Hence “go there, look at it, talk to people and maybe even live on a trial basis”. It is better to test early enough than to have to take the first thing out of necessity.

For communities the question then arises: Are we looking for similar comrades-in-arms or do we want to have many different people in the project or several generations?

Let us start early enough to look for friends and nice people to live in before it is too late. We should not only make provisions for our pension, but also protect ourselves socially. Build up a kind of social life insurance. In this way we can secure support and enrichment for our aging.

The basis for this article is Sven Voelpel's book “Decide for yourself how old you are. What research knows about staying young "(Chapter: Social old age. How others make us old or keep us young. Pp. 177-247). Rowohlt Polaris. 2nd edition 2016. There you can find out more about the topic, including about loneliness, you can also take a test to determine your social age.

The book by the aging psychologist Hans-Werner Wahl quoted above is also highly recommended: The new psychology of aging. Surprising findings about our longest phase of life. Kösel. 2nd edition 2017.