The human need for community and interaction is not just sentimental. The brain truly needs this type of stimulation to boost your brainpower. This need for community was researched in prisons, and they discovered that people who are in solitary confinement start to experience a quick decline in health. These prisoners hate being alone so much that they actually prefer to be next to murderers and violent criminals rather than in solitary. Because the brain needs interaction, communication, and social activity, prisoners will do anything to avoid this punishment.
In regard to brain function, it doesn’t matter how many Facebook friends you have, but rather how many in-person social experiences you have with friends or family. People are fooled into thinking they are being social because they are getting “likes” and comments on social media. We should actually call it “anti-social media” because it is preventing us from having face-to-face interactions. If patients tell me that they have no friends or family, then I let them know it is important to make some friends. If you really think it is too hard and there is absolutely no way you could ever make a new friend, you might choose to have a meaningful relationship with a pet. If you can’t get a pet, try a doll. In Castaway, for instance, Tom Hanks’s character personified a volleyball to talk to and interact with, and that relationship saved his brain.
My suggestion is to get off your phone, stop sitting at home on the computer or watching TV, and go out into the real world. If you don’t have a friend to go out with, just walk outside and enjoy some people watching. You might see people sitting at a cafe having their first date, an old married couple holding hands walking down the street, kids hanging out together, or a mother strolling with her baby. Watching these activities activates mirror neurons that will stimulate the brain as much as doing the activities yourself.
Another idea is to stop wishing people a happy birthday on Facebook, and instead pick up the phone. They will appreciate it so much more. You can hear a smile over the phone, and that will stimulate your brain. Don’t send a text telling someone you love them; send them a card. They will probably never read that text again, but they will keep the card. Don’t buy people presents for their birthdays; do something special like taking a painting class together, going to a Broadway show, or going to Rockefeller Center to ice skate! Make a memory together rather than buying some materialistic gift. And keep all your memories in a book. That way, if you are having a bad day or are feeling anxious or depressed, you can flip through the book, and it will light up your day, releasing endorphins that will give you a natural high to get you out of that funk. Life is a collection of memories, not a collection of things.
It might be hard to believe, but staying connected is an extremely important step to boosting brainpower. Staying engaged with people and having good, positive, face-to-face interactions, or getting out into the world and spending time in your community stimulates the brain while maintaining its health and strength. Start spending more time with your family. Neuroscience has proven that grandparents who spend time with grandkids live longer and report an increase in overall happiness. This is the result of a symbiotic relationship. Grandparents share their experience, knowledge, and love with their grandkids, and in turn receive a brainpower boost—improving their happiness, health, and quality of life. But don’t just think about it. In these modern times, you have to actually manage your calendar—not only for work, holidays, or special events, but for meeting up with friends and family. Social interaction is vital to boosting brain function.
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