three friends walking

Happiness: The role of the social network


In a series of LinkedIn Influencer blog posts, Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard shares insights and ideas about the future of health care and discusses the importance of working together to improve the health-care system as well as our own health and well-being. His topics range from the powerful potential of technology to the issue of loneliness. His latest, Happiness: The Role of the Social Network, is reprinted below. To see all of his blog posts, click here.

Bruce_Broussard_MEDIres.jpg WWhat’s more impactful on your health – eating a salad for lunch because you need your fruits and vegetables or spending time with the people who make you happy?

We all know what it takes to be healthy on the physical side – eat right, get plenty of sleep and exercise daily. But what about our overall well-being?

Let’s take our senior population. When it comes to helping seniors with their health and well-being, healthy eating and activity are important. But as a person ages, the ability to find happiness is so much more than just the treatment of medical care. This is a challenge: as people age, the distance between them and their community becomes greater.

Studies have shown that there is a “connection between positive psychological attributes, such as happiness, optimism and life satisfaction, and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.” If people are happier, they’re more likely to be engaged with others who share the same goals, lifestyles and social settings.

To make an impact on an individual’s health, you have to create a mentally and stimulating environment where people have things – and other people – that make them happy. It’s not just about health; it’s about the other side of the coin: well-being.

Looking to the Past
In my own experience, I have seen that a supportive environment helps promote social interaction and happiness can have a profound impact on health and well-being.

Several years ago, I bought an old, fixer-upper 1920’s grand hotel situated on a six-acre property on the Florida coast and turned it into Riviera Assisted Living.

We sought to keep the grand nature of it alive but ensure it had the welcoming feel of an engaged, social and vibrant community. We wanted the environment at Riviera to encourage community and support family and friendship – elements of a social environment that espoused happiness and good health – and it needed to permeate every aspect of the care we provided.

The people who entered Riviera had poor nutrition, below average health, weren’t socially active and had tended to be isolated. After a month in our social environment, we witnessed significant positive changes in our residents. They were not only physically healthier but feeling better mentally – happier. Our residents enjoyed each other and were often engaged in joyous conversation. In many instances, they saw each other as family.

We always focused on delivering the best medical care possible but placed a heavy emphasis on the social network: trips to Walmart, visits at the park beach, bingo night. These social networks created by our residents were truly driving changes that were going beyond well beyond their physical health. Many were not only happier but also healthier.

The Community Element
Social networks like the ones we saw foster in Riviera can lay the foundation by creating an environment that can promote and encourage people to live a healthier lifestyle, whether it’s a morning walking group or neighbors tending to a community garden.
For instance, when it comes to communities that encourage good health, take the examples in Dan Buettner’s insightful book: “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.” Buettner teamed up with National Geographic to find communities around the world where people live considerably longer, healthier and happier lives.

In his research, Buettner “identified nine powerful yet simple lessons that debunk the most common myths and offer a science-backed blueprint that could give the average American another 12 quality years of life.” From a Greek island to a peninsula in Costa Rica, Buettner’s fascinating articles showcase how people in these areas are living longer – and equally important – healthier and happier – lives. I highly recommend reading about these people and places.

While several of Buettner’s “Power 9” lessons had to do with healthy eating and exercise, a third of his list – from the second edition of his book – grabbed my attention:

  • Purpose NowTake time to see the big picture.
  • Right TribeBe surrounded by those who share Blue Zone values.
  • Loved Ones FirstMake family a priority.

When it comes to our senior population, these “Power 9” examples not only reminded me about my experience with Riviera but also how we’re approaching health today when it comes to our senior population.

Where We Are Today
Look at how today’s “senior” population is changing. Every day more than 10,000 people turn 65 and are living much longer, active and more social lives. For many of these Baby Boomers, 65 has become the new 55.

If people have a purpose, it’s been my experience that they’re going to channel their positive energy in their pursuit and navigate towards other like-minded individuals, where a social setting will influence them.

Health is personal and it always will be. While we all have our own best health we seek to achieve, the communities we live in can have a significant influence on our lifestyle choices and – more importantly – help keep us on the right track to better health. With a supporting environment of like-minded individuals, each of us is inadvertently helping each other live healthy lives. Put simply: if you hang out with people who like to garden, you’re going to eat a lot healthier.

Going Forward
At Humana, we have a saying: “good health can also be contagious.” The impact of well-being doesn’t just start with a person’s health; it encompasses social networks that support healthy lifestyles; loving relations with family and/or friends.

People ask me what I feel is missing from health care. While I tend to highlight the importance of technology or how we reimburse our physicians – these are critical initiatives that will transform health care – it’s about the social network.

We’re at our best when we have a purpose that drives us and when we engage others in what we enjoy. We’re at our best when we smile and laugh; when we support one another; when we help people get up when they fall down.

The pursuit of happiness can not only lead to love, but also to better health.

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