In the movie City Slickers one of the main characters is Curly, a crusty guy who teaches the citified folks a thing or two about being real cowboys. There is a pivotal scene where Curly asks the main character Mitch, played by Billy Crystal, the ultimate question:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?

[holds up one finger] This.

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s***.

Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”

Curly: That’s what you have to find out.

We contend the one thing is connection. Our minds immediately jump to romantic connection, but today our focus on connection is on social relationships: family, friends or groups. There is growing evidence to support that relationships are essential for our health and happiness.

Want to live longer?

Multiple studies show those with little to no involvement in relationships are more likely to die earlier than those with greater involvement. As an example, a study done of adults with coronary artery disease found that patients who were socially isolated were almost two and a half times more likely to die of heart disease than their peers who were socially connected!

Researchers at the University of Chicago have found loneliness increases a person’s chance of early overall mortality by 14%. Surprisingly, it has double the impact of obesity on premature death. In terms of risk, others describe loneliness as the new smoking.

What about happiness?

Several long-term studies on longevity have found it is the connections we make, not necessarily the amount of money we have, which make us happy. Does money hurt one’s chances of being happy? No. It fact, large study found money can help with happiness—but only up to a point. When it comes to income, those who make up to $75,000 a year are happier compared to those who make less. However, beyond that, the happiness factor does not increase.

What is it about connection that makes it key?

Social connections influence our health behaviors. For some it enhances support for mental as well as physical health. According to the researchers at University of Chicago, there are a variety of types of connection:

Intimate connectedness: Having someone in your life validating you as a person.

Relational Connectedness: Having face-to-face contacts that are mutually rewarding.

Collective Connectedness: Being part of a group.

The downside…

Of course, when there are stresses in relationships, they can have negative consequences as well. That is why it is so important to leave or improve those relationships that are unhealthy or dysfunctional and build and nurture those that nurture you.

What can you do to get connected?

If you are not connected yet, don’t despair. According to Harvard researcher Robert Putnam, if you join a group and participate, you can decrease your chance of dying by half for the year. Some viable options: volunteer on a community project resonates with you, join group that is already doing something that interests you, or start dancing. There are dance communities all over the country doing all different kinds of dance. (Lead & follow is shown overall to be the healthiest option.) Dance can help you remain healthy, and you can join a welcoming community that is sure to improve your ability to connect in dance and in life.

City Slicker Mitch found out the one thing for him was his family (which included his wife, kids and a calf named Norman). This was a connection he had all along that he came to realize was what truly mattered to him.

If you are connected, hug your friends and family—put your time in—realize that they are your lifesavers, your true north, possibly your one thing that is what makes life meaningful, healthy and happy.