I was struck by a tiny item in the newspaper the other day that seems to speak to these hard economic and political times and also this special Thanksgiving weekend. It concerned Dr. Richard Tunney, a psychologist at the University of Nottingham, in Great Britain, who’d carried out a study for the UK’s National Lottery examining levels of happiness and overall satisfaction with life among those who’d won the lottery, compared with a sampling of non-winners across the nation.
Approximately 1800 people participated in the survey, which examined how satisfied they were with their lives and achievements and also the kinds of relationships they had with friends, including when they met, how often they speak, which activities they participate in together and the number of new friends they made in the last two years.
Tunney discovered that achievements and even money mattered a good deal less than friendship. Those with five friends or fewer had a 60 per cent chance of being unhappy, irrespective of their economic status or of whether they had won the lottery. Those with five close friends had a 50 per cent chance of being happy, but by far the happiest were those with at least 10 friends, who had about a 55 per cent of being happy and satisfied with their lot in life.
Furthermore, those people who counted themselves as ‘extremely satisfied’ with their lives had twice as many friends as those who were ‘extremely dissatisfied’ with their lives.
The critical mass of friends required to ensure happiness appeared to be 10; adding on more friends didn’t significantly increase the participants’ levels of happiness.
Furthermore, those who were happiest of all were part of a small close-knit social circle that had existed for a long time.
Dying of a broken heart
Dr Dean Ornish, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the School for Medicine, University of California at San Francisco, has collected copious research on the various causes of heart disease. He has discovered that while smoking, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and high-fat diet are important risk factors, they only account for half of all heart disease. No one risk factor appears more important than isolation —from other people, from our own feelings and from a higher source.
In studies in San Francisco and in Eastern Finland among the nearly 20,000 people observed for up to nine years, those who were lonely and isolated socially were two to three times more likely to die from heart disease and other causes than those who felt connected to others. The results occurred independently of risk factors such as high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure, smoking and family history.
Every so-called lifestyle risk factor had less to do with someone having a heart attack than loneliness. How much you smoke or what you eat doesn’t seem to have as much bearing on your health as a lack of connection.
Tribe of ten
For a number of years, I have supported the creation of micro communities of eight or more on my Intention Experiment website, who correspond solely through the website but nevertheless develop close and supportive relationships. After regularly communicating and forming strong, cohesive bonds, these small groups have demonstrated effects that are nothing short of miraculous.
This bonding can occur in a single weekend. During our Living with Intention weekend workshops, we divide the audience of attendees into small groups of 10 or more teach them techniques of group intention and have them practice healing intention on members of their group with health challenges. On the final day of the workshop, we ask both healers and healees to share any physical or psychological changes, for better or worse, that they’ve experienced over the weekend.
We are often witness to stories of seemingly extraordinary healings. To cite one example, Marsha, I’ll call her, had developed an opacity in one cornea, largely blocking the vision of one eye. The following day, after her group’s healing intention, she claimed that her sight in that eye had been 80 per cent restored.
On this Thanksgiving weekend, may I suggest that you gather around and connect with your own tribe of 10 closest and dearest. By doing so, you will remind yourself in these hard times of what you have to be most thankful for.