To wit: The fascinating research Dr. Taylor conducted with Laura Cousino Klein while at UCLA found that female friendship not only makes us happier by lending a sense of acceptance, security, and validation, it can actually lower stress, blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, and overall risk for disease too. In lay terms even I can understand, the theory goes something like this: Women become more social in times of stress. Typically, we'll resort to the more protective, nurturing, "tend and befriend" types of behaviors—unlike men, whose coping mechanisms are more "fight or flight." We pick up the phone and call each other. We confide, commiserate, laugh, and bare our souls. We lean on and draw support from one another and, in doing so, create multiple sources of intimacy for ourselves.
No matter how you look at it, tending and befriending is a downright sound investment in one's health. When we turn toward one another and interact in these positive, nurturing, and empathic ways, we make one another feel safe, allowing our bodies to release increased levels of the "cuddle hormone," oxytocin. Oxytocin, as you may already appreciate, is basically a gift of sunshine, one that lends a sense of contentment, peace, and calm. It also helps flip on our internal social switch, leaving us motivated to reach out, make connections, and tend and befriend all the more. The latest research suggests, in fact, that oxytocin may help inhibit social phobia and is key to our ability to feel empathy or trust after a betrayal—precisely what we're going for in this book. For, as some experts in the field argue, when trust is absent we, in essence, "dehumanize" ourselves.
The bottom line? Women are good for one another. We're proven natural sources of oxytocin, we have a unique ability to make each other feel great, and we can actually help each other live longer and qualitatively better lives simply by making and maintaining positive connections. As Karen A. Roberto, director of both the Center for Gerontology and the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment at Virginia Polytech Institute and State University, contends, "Friendship is an undervalued resource. The consistent message of these studies is that friends make your life better." Dr. Taylor agrees that we can't really overstate the importance of human connection to our health:
When we erode our social and emotional ties, we pay for it long into the future. When we invest in them instead, we reap the benefits for generations to come.