Do you trust your neighbors? And by the way, how have you been feeling lately? In a study by Eileen Bjornstrom, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Missouri, people who said that their neighbors could be trusted tended to report better health than less trusting souls.
It's not the first time researchers have found a link between social trust and personal health. For example, a recent study from Umea University in Sweden showed that people who said they trusted their neighbors were twice as likely as those who didn't to rate their health as good. Older research from Duke University found that people aged 55 to 80 who were high in interpersonal trust lived longer, on average, over the next 14 years than those who were lower in that quality.
What's the connection? When you believe that your neighbors are generally trustworthy, you're more likely to interact with them. Whether it's a chat by the mailbox, a helping hand with packages, or simply a wave and a smile, this type of interaction can lift your mood, reduce your stress, and instill a sense of belonging. Those benefits, in turn, have been linked to better health, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, digestive complaints, and sleep problems.
Good neighbors may provide emotional support in hard times, such as when you're out of work, going through a divorce, or coping with an illness. They may offer practical help, such as keeping an eye on your place when you're away. In some cases, they may also share valuable information, such as the name of an excellent doctor with an office nearby. But you're unlikely to avail yourself of these opportunities if you're hampered by distrust.
Despite the proven benefits, social trust is on the decline. The number of Americans who believed others could be trusted most or all of the time fell from 55% in 1960 to 30% in 1998, according to the Saguaro Seminar on Civic Engagement in America at Harvard University.
The most direct route to building greater trust is neighborly interaction. Spend time in public spaces, such as the local dog park, bike path, or coffee shop. Join a civic group, volunteer for a neighborhood project, or take a class at the community center. Or simply introduce yourself to someone you see around but whose name you don't know. The better you get to know your neighbors, the more likely you are to trust them - and the more you stand to gain in health and well-being.