Having a robust social network improves our physical health. Social connections also affect our mental health such as anxiety and overall happiness. The Japanese practice of moai gives social and public sectors a way to hack our social nature to help people live better.
The Healing Power of Friends
All of us are wired with a social nature. We live together in families and neighborhoods and cities because it’s better for us individually and collectively. In fact, we know that social isolation is as harmful as obesity.
In fighting the harm and expense of social isolation, can we consider friendship a social good?
Friendship is or can be universally distributed and universally consumed. Everyone can participate in friendship. Check.
With social goods, the buyer and the end-user often aren’t the same person. In this case, the people who pay to support friendship aren’t always the people gaining friends. Also, check.
For example, if I’m 30 years old, but my local tax dollars are helping build a senior center, then I’m paying for a friendship tool that I don’t directly use. The reverse holds true for senior citizens paying for after-school programs at the local middle school.
Because friendship is a social good with broad societal benefits, it’s in our best interest to design, distribute, and promote friendship for the good of the individual and the group.
Moai Manufactures Friends
Moai started on the Japanese island of Okinawa. In moai, adults band five young girls together in a friendship and support group. That group often sticks together throughout their lives, giving social, emotional, logistical, and even financial support. These friendships help ease the struggle of tough times. It also spreads out the bounty from the good times.
Women in Okinawa have the longest life expectancy in the world, averaging 90 years. Researchers suspect that the support of a lifelong network of friends contributes to health and longevity.
Hacking Friendship Using Moai
As documented in this New York Times article, Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and author, is helping create moai in the United States by drawing on proximity and common interests.
Buettner has researched regions in the world such Okinawa where people live much longer than average. One finding of his research is that positive friendships are a common theme in these so-called “Blue Zones.”
Because people in the US are so geographically mobile throughout their lives, it’s challenging to band kids together into moai and expect it will last their entire lives.
Instead, Buettner is working with health officials across the country to get a type of moai for adults started in more than 20 cities. Adults recieve invitations to moai groups based on several criteria: geography; common interests; work and family schedules.
These new moai hang out together for an initial ten weeks. Then, Buettner tracks how long they continue to socialize. Some of these groups have persisted for several years.
Moai projects are just one way that we can apply the discipline of marketing to the social good of friendships.
Apply the discipline of marketing to friendship and consider the possibilities:
- Design–The physical design of sidewalks, city trees, and public spaces supports more social interaction for existing friends and the opportunity to meet new friends.
- Distribution–Access to public spaces, events, and services that support friendship need to be distributed equitably through the service area. Improving distribution is one way that marketers increase the value of their goods and services.
- Pricing–Public health and law enforcement are two pools of public funds that could support increased friendship for the good of the community. The money could pay for activities, equipment, experiences that bring and keep friends together. What about 2-for-1 “friend” prices for city-run events and attractions such as museums, concerts, and golf courses?
- Promotion–The federal government pays to promotion how to be a better dad. Why not a similar effort to support and encourage friendship? We can see and measure the benefits.
If you’re lucky enough to have a lifelong friend, or one in the making, share this post with them to acknowledge all their friendship does for you.