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The Social Cure via Volunteering October 18, 2010

So I missed the annual Boston Book Festival  this past Saturday on Oct 16, even though last year’s BBF is the reason this blog exists.  To satisfy my curiosity about what I missed I looked at the pics taken by Mike Lee  and Dinmohamed Abdimomunov and read about the event on-line. It looks like there were great speakers, workshops and OLPC had a nice booth with great volunteers showcasing the XOs. The event was a success just like last year and I wish I could have attended it. However, the same day I discovered something else I want to share with you. It is an article of Sept/Oct issue of www.ScientificAmerican.com/mind,  called  “The Social Cure”. The main idea is:

1. Membership in a large number of groups was once thought to be detrimental because it complicated our lives and caused stress. 2. Now, however, research shows that being part of social networks enhances our resilience, enabling us to cope more effectively with difficult life changes such as death of a loved one, job loss or a move. 3. Not only do our group memberships help us mentally, they also are associated with increased physical well-being.

We weather life transitions better if we have multiple social identities. For example, if people lose their job they are also likely to lose a network of colleagues that over the years has been important to them. This will tend to compromise their well-being. Yet they may still belong to the local tennis club or be a volunteer at the local church, and maintaining these identities will probably help them through the transition.

Group life and a sense of social identity have profound influence on our general health and well-being. This finding reflects something fundamental about human nature: we are social animals who live (and have evolved to live) in groups. For humans, membership in groups is an indispensable part of who we are and what we need to be to lead rich and fulfilling lives. Practically it means that groups can offer a social cure. Participation in group life can be like an inoculation against threats to mental and physical health.

One of the ways to become a member of various groups is to volunteer and try different activities (find them through friends, meetup, etc.) Not only that you will meet similar-minded people who share your values but you will build your resilience to stress plus help others, build new skills and (very possibly) a career in something new.

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