An elegant presence in a dark suit with tie neatly knotted, he reclined with eyes closed, hands clasped. His face was still boyishly handsome at 57 under the sweep of silver hair. My father rested in his open casket, and as I stood alone in the funeral home room, I at last understood the clich of the crushing weight of grief.
Moments later face after friendly face poured into the room, smiling encouragingly at me, touching my arm, murmuring words of support, sharing memories. Physically I felt as if I had been lying, flattened by sorrow, on a bedsheet, and all the friends and relatives around me had grabbed the edges and lifted me up. As the days and weeks passed, members of my healing human network—at home, at holiday gatherings, during the commute, at work, at the gym—bolstered my spirits.
And so it is with all of us, as social psychologist Jolanda Jetten and her colleagues reveal in our cover story, “The Social Cure.” As studies show, being part of many social groups fosters resilience, giving us the strength to get through hardships such as job loss, a move or other challenging life events. What is more, social groups promote better cognition and physical health. So go ahead and take the time for your bridge club, golf foursome, lunch date or other seemingly guilty social pleasure—and know that you’re actually making yourself mentally healthier.
For the millions who suffer from chronic pain, a return to full health can feel like an elusive dream. While an ache normally serves the useful purpose of warning us away from further injury, chronic pain doesn’t ebb when the wound is gone. Now new insights into the mechanisms behind the condition may at last help us control that formidable tormentor. In a special section of three feature articles, you will learn how pain can become lasting, how psychology influences our perception of it and why some people are more (or less) susceptible. As the articles show, a feeling of reward can have an analgesic effect. Does that mean the pleasure gained from learning about how the mind works can count? It doesn’t hurt to try.
Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Social Saviors."