Research shows how family, friendship, community and work can affect us

In its listing of 10 books to help prepare for 2020, the Wharton School of Business “Knowledge” e-newsletter includes works on strategy, leadership, technology, disruption. . . and one health-related title. In the book, The Rabbit Effect, author Kelli Harding, M.D., discusses how physical health extends beyond the doctor’s office to include psychological and social factors, such as family, relationships, social ties, community and culture.

Through her practice experience and research (the book contains 29 pages of notes and references), Dr. Harding makes the case that the ties that bind us have ripple effects on our health and the world at large. “To live a truly healthy life, we need to connect to one (an)other and find purpose, joy, and meaning in our lives,” she writes.

For example, Dr. Harding cites a 2015 study that shows chronic loneliness increases the odds of heart disease and stroke by about 30%. A review study reveals that loneliness is the equivalent of heavy alcohol use or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Further, in a study that spans eight decades, good relationships are shown as a key predictor of a happy, healthy life.


Other recently published books have addressed the connections between relationships and health. In Together, Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., makes the case for loneliness as a public health concern. Science journalist Andrea Petersen’s book Friendship has received enthusiastic reviews from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Publishers Weekly, among others.

Dr. Harding also discusses how factors such as fairness and business relationships impact health. For example, the strongest predictor of one’s death from heart disease isn’t cholesterol or blood pressure. “It’s his job. Or her job,” Dr. Harding reports in a recent Knowledge@Wharton podcast. The takeaway: It’s important to have a good doctor, “but it’s also important to have a good manager and to give people the skills they need to be good managers,” says Dr. Harding.

Just as research shows us that good vision can help improve our vitality, quality of life and longevity, it also shows us that good relationships, kindness and community can impact happiness and health. These are both messages that can represent good news and opportunity for us all. OM