Chapters 12 & 13

Although I think that the majority of people would assume that a person’s “connections” with others — if they are positive or if there are many — would lead to a long life, I also think the researchers did a good job of choosing which activities could serve as accurate markers of social support. I feel as though often times, people assume that if one has an abundance of social connections, they are happy or pleased with life. However, it is certainly important to also consider the level of satisfaction one truly has with these “social connections,” which the researchers evaluated. I found the “self-assessment” in Chapter 12 to be useful, but I think that some of the questions could, perhaps, be worded differently. For example, one questions asks: “How many relatives do you see or hear from at least once per month?” I know there are people who are very distant from their families, but this does not mean they are socially isolated. These people spend much of their time with their friends, or with their partner/family of their partner, and this goes for situations that are the other way around as well. Certain people do not have many friends they could call for help if they needed to do so, but they do have strong ties with their families, or very large families they can count on. For this reason, I think it would be helpful to ask the questions in the format where either friends or family are an option. However, I do realize that the questions are probably only phrased like this for reasons of specificity — which I understand.

Barbara’s case, which is discussed in the “social butterflies” section is unique, in my opinion, because her social support is associated with helping other people. I can see why the most evident benefit of social relationships comes from helping others, and I would personally agree, but I think that something else the researchers could consider is how these people who find joy in helping others are feeling, themselves. I know that in several cases, the people who are the most useful in helping others also happen to be depressed. I am not saying that this is the case with everyone, but I think it is a common occurrence that could be evaluated.

As for the finding that “pets do not provide the social enrichment that is so important to long life,” I disagree. I would appreciate if their actual data was provided, because this is a very common belief and I have also read many articles supporting this very phenomenon. I think this is something that depends on the case, because although it is true that an animal cannot hold a conversation with you, many people just need someone who will listen and that is exactly what a pet would typically do. Also, I believe that pets you can constantly interact with, such as a dog or a cat, provide just as much companionship as a person would, and maybe even more. Although they do not replace interaction with other humans, I do not see how or why “service” animals would be permitted if they did not provide people with social enrichment.

Chapter 13 was fascinating to me, I think because I have grown up hearing about the gender gap my entire life and, finally, I was reading something good about this gap — although, not necessarily good for men. The majority of times I have heard that women outlive men has been because men take more risks, or just generally engage in more dangerous behavior. The authors included several different examples to show the differences that exist between femininity and masculinity, which I appreciated, but I think the self-assessment in this chapter could have been more useful, had it provided more than just career options, because I really think this depends on the person and can vary greatly. I was surprised to read about how different widowed women are from widowed men, even if they loved their partners the same amount. For example, it was weird to me that a widowed woman lived even longer than a woman who remained married her whole life. Could it be that the authors are referring to women who were not happily married?

I can see why femininity was more protective than masculinity, but I am curious to see what research in the future, if any, can show why exactly women are so commonly outliving their male counterparts. It was reassuring to read that women are likely to thrive even after losing male figures, whether by divorce or by widowhood, even though these seem like very difficult life events to overcome. Lastly, I was shocked to discover that the anxiousness and worrying that follows the death of a spouse was actually beneficial to males who lost their spouses. I think my main takeaway from this chapter is that, more often than we are led to believe, loss is not that bad. It is, of course, terrible and tremendously difficult to deal with as we grieve, but it also makes us stronger, more considerate individuals and our reactions to it can even lead some of us to live longer lives.

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