13 Books to Improve Your Social Health
Just like quality time with friends, reading can help your mental and social health. We’ve gathered the best books to guide you on your path to reconnection.
Drop the word “health” into Amazon’s book search and you’ll see a staggering 90,000 results come back at you. It’s no secret we’re up to our eyeballs in literature that covers the health, wellness, and personal development categories. Whether it’s Dr. Oz, Whole Foods, SoulCycle, or Tony Robbins, we’re inundated with information on how to optimize our body mass index, lower our blood pressure, or deal with our self-image issues.
But there’s a missing piece to this puzzle — one that’s been getting swept under the rug since the dawn of the digital age — our biological need for social interaction and the fact that disconnection from other humans can literally undo all of the hard work you’ve put in.
Whether we choose face-to-face communication or digital formats, the connections that we have with one another have a powerful impact on our health. Everything from our immune system and cortisol levels to our risk of anxiety and depression can be measurably affected by how we conduct our social lives.
If you struggle with building strong and healthy relationships (romantic or platonic), you’re definitely not alone. Today’s always-on world leaves most of us mentally and physically exhausted, not to mention distracted (Game of Thrones anyone??), making it increasingly more difficult to find deep connection, even with the people we care about most.
Fortunately, there are credible sources (albeit limited) on the topic of social wellness and how to balance your already full calendar with the right kinds of social engagements to optimize for your social well-being. So, we rounded up the top 13 must-reads that tackle the subject to get the juices flowing. Here we go…
1. Belong by Radha Agrawal
If you’re one of the many people who have logged thousands of connections without really feeling connected, Belong should be your next must-read. An interactive guide to help you discover what fills you up, it’s got just the right amount of how-to on connecting with people who share your interests and values. Agrawal shows us self-discovery is a powerful tool in finding a place to call home in a thriving community.
2. Lost Connections by Johann Hari
Life is rife with ups and downs and, according to Hari, you’re not alone in experiencing the anxiety and depression that come along with the rollercoaster of life. Lost Connections shifts your perspective on the causes of depression, anxiety, and many other health issues. Spoiler alert! It’s not always a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. A sufferer of depression himself, Hari interviews over 200 social scientists to uncover staggering statistics, suggesting these disorders are caused instead by the way we live in today’s always-on, radically independent world. At the top of the list: our loss of social connection.
3. Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam
In this insightful study of American culture, Bowling Alone digs into the disruption of social integration in recent decades. As humans become more disconnected from families, neighbors, communities, and organizations, the result is a bonafide breakdown of civil society. The more time we spend alone, the less empathy we have for those around us, and Putnam reminds us that this loss of connection threatens not only our happiness, but our physical health as well.
4. The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
Part personal journey, part study of various gatherings, The Art of Gathering explores the reasons why today’s gatherings are ineffective in serving their intended purposes. Although humans crave social interaction, Parker explains, when we get stuck in the routine of the daily grind, we inevitably relinquish much-needed attention on the people we’re surrounded by. If you’ve ever hosted a gathering only to be disappointed by the results, The Art of Gathering will teach you subtle ways to make big changes and inspire the people around you to do the same.
5. This is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick
After her sixth inter-city move, Melody Warnick set out on a personal journey to discover how we choose the places and communities that we love to call home. Studying cities across America and the psychological research behind place attachment, Warnick walks you through a series of self-created experiments intended to help her feel more connected to her community. If you regularly experience disconnection even when you’re surrounded by others, these experiments might help you embrace your place and finally find home.
Listen on Wellness 3.0: Making Friends | Melody Warnick
Podcast: How To Make Friends In a New City with Melody Warnick
Melody Warnick joins Wellness 3.0 to teach us how to make friends in a new city as an adult and the importance of feeling a sense of belonging.
6. Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
No. 1 bestselling author Brené Brown produces another insightful masterpiece that challenges us to consider how today’s culture is shaping who we are at our core. In Braving the Wilderness, Brown pays homage to authenticity, pointing out that true belonging only exists in a culture that allows you to be you. As a society that rewards quietly accepting the beliefs and judgements of others to avoid negative attention, this book reminds us to battle the wilderness of criticism to find a place where we truly belong.
7. Connected by James H. Fowler & Nicholas A. Christakis
If you’ve ever wondered how the emotions of others impact you, this book needs to be added to your list. Authors Fowler and Christakis dig deep into how emotions are contagious, how people you barely know can affect your actions, and even how we find and choose our life partners. As you continue to connect with thousands of people every day through social media, it’s more important than ever to spend some time learning how these connections impact your mental well-being.
8. The Status Syndrome by Michael Marmot
If you think longevity is based solely on genetics and how well you “take care” of your physical body, you may be missing one of the vital factors in what determines the length of your life — your social status. Marmot breaks down how the psychological experience of financial and social inequality affects every aspect of our lives and, ultimately, our health. Despite the overwhelming and outright alarming data that is surfaced in The Status Syndrome, Marmot shows us how this knowledge can inspire change for a better future.
9. Our Emotional Footprint by Dr. Saul Levine, MD
Every adult has experienced, at some time, joy and sorrow, fear and bliss, success and failure, but each one of us is unique in our reaction to these emotions. Dr. Levine studies the way humans engage with relationships, unexpected events, and life changes through a series of personal accounts. A collection of stories, Our Emotional Footprint uncovers the various ways we deal with the hopes and disappointments that life hands us and how our emotional reactions affect the people around us.
11. Fully Connected by Julia Hobsbawm
As the internet reached its 25th birthday, Julia Hobsbawm took a good, hard look at the phenomenon of connection overdrive. Overloaded with information and technology like never before, humans are missing something essential to being human — social health — without it, satisfaction is virtually unattainable. In the digital age, Fully Connected takes readers on a journey to remind us that social networks are about genuine, personal connections, not technology.
11. Can We Be Friends? By Rebecca Frech
If you think BFFs are reserved for ages 17 and under, prepare to change your mind. While adulting often gets in the way of building genuine, platonic relationships, the value of devoting time and energy to the art of friendshiping is measurable. Frech offers up a fun and insightful study, filled with personal anecdotes, on the various types of friend relationships. With a deep dive on how to decide which people truly belong in your inner circle, Can We Be Friends? reminds us that true friendships still exist, even for adults.
12. Alone Together by Sherry Turkle
In a world of Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, and, and, and… most of us are arguably making hundreds, if not thousands, of social connections online every day. However, these peripheral, digital connections are often illusions, or simulations as Turkle puts it, of the in-person, emotional connections we used to have with the people around us. As we neglect our real-life relationships in lieu of the new-fangled avatars we claim as friends on social media, Alone Together sheds light on the frightening ways relationships are changing as well as the inspiring ways the youngest generations fight back.
13. The Social Skills Guidebook by Chris MacLeod
Whether your inner demon is crippling shyness, inexplicable awkwardness, or a nasty, self-critical voice in your head, The Social Skills Guidebook has forged the perfect battle axe for you to cut through it all and find ease in your ideal social life. Chris MacLeod offers a take-action guide to help you get out of your own way and march on a path to developing the friendships you really want.
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Make no mistake about it, new friendships require dedicated time and attention. When a great new friend enters your life, the effort is quickly outweighed by the benefit of true, meaningful connection.