Proper Human Interaction (PHI): The Missing Ingredient For Health, Happiness And Longevity
I have just completed travels with my 90-year-old father and my 25-year old son. I had four reasons why I wanted to plan this journey. The first reason is that it was a birthday present to my father. The second reason was to celebrate health and vitality. My son had health problems for several years and is now 100% healthy. My father is still going strong at 90. Things can quickly change, so I wanted to take full advantage of the moment. The third reason was to visit our family on my father’s side in the UK while he still can. Lastly, I wanted to see Normandy on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings to pay my respects to the fallen, and to celebrate the peace and prosperity we have enjoyed as a result of those brave actions undertaken so many years ago.
The trip was jam packed with visits to see relatives we hardly get the chance to see, and to meet some for the first time. We also got to talk to fellow travelers and participants in the horrific events of June 6th, 1944. Throughout the trip, I was amazed at how positive the majority of the interactions were. Whether we were meeting a relative for the first time, or just casually talking to strangers, the interactions were generally positive and mutually beneficial from a psychological standpoint. I started to realize that we were doing what people do best. Interacting face-to-face. I dubbed it “Proper Human Interaction” in my mind. I realized that the abbreviation is PHI. I looked up the Greek letter and was amazed to find two things it represents in science and nature.
One was that it is the symbol for the Golden Ratio. Essentially, it is a mathematic formula used to describe why objects seem pleasing to the eye. The golden ratio is found universally in nature and science. Examples are flower petals, seed heads, pinecones, tree branches, shells, spiral galaxies, hurricanes, animal bodies, fingers and DNA molecules. (1) The smiles I create are based on the golden ratio as well. Examples abound in art and architecture. DaVinci used the golden ratio (he called it the “sectio Aura” or golden section) in the Last Supper, Mona Lisa and Virtruvian man. In short, the golden ratio is perfect harmony, and that is what humans should aspire to in our dealings with each other.
The second and most significant use of Phi represents the probability that a species will continue to live in a niche that it occupied the previous year. (2) Numerous studies show that the quality and quantity of social interaction improve physiological and psychological outcomes. In nature, when animals of the same species meet, there is a chance for continued survival of the species in that given environment. Examples are cooperation in hunting, and ultimately mating to produce offspring.(3) The use of Phi in this formula literally equates to survival through proper interaction.
I believe one of the reasons that we have neglected this important factor today, is that the only way to survive in the past was through proper human interaction Phi. Given that hunter-gatherers must cooperate as a group or face the collapse of their band, Phi was maximized. It is a misconception that hunter-gatherers were all related. A recent study found that most H-G bands are composed of unrelated people. Inbreeding ultimately leads to loss of fitness. A prime example is the Habsburg dynasty that was so inbred, the last surviving male was incapable of siring an heir.(4) For this reason alone, the very concept of requiring genetic relatedness in small groups would be disastrous. The results of a recent study suggest that this arrangement in human evolutionary history may have had a transformative effect on human social organization. The resulting societies were hyper-cooperative.(5) Nearby groups increased their survival by integrating cultures through mutually beneficial interactions, hyper-cooperation and marriages.
Today, we don’t have to hunt or even farm our own food, we have climate control everywhere, we are highly entertained, we have medicine for everything, and we can gain goods and services at the click of a link. There are apps that you can browse and click on a person to meet them as if you were shopping. In constructing this "paradise”, we have lost the need for most common human interactions. Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe tells of the irony that-for many veterans as well as civilians-war feels better than peace, adversity can turn out to be a blessing, and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. The reason is that during war and disaster, humans naturally come together for survival as per our genetic heritage. He explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today's divided world.(6)
Julianne Holt-Lunstad studied long lived populations and looked at diet, exercise, marital status, if they smoked or drank, and how they took care of their health. She concludes that those with adequate social relationships have a 50% greater likelihood of survival compared to those with poor or insufficient social relationships. The magnitude of this effect is comparable with quitting smoking and it exceeds many well-known risk factors for mortality (e.g., obesity, physical inactivity).(7) This is quite remarkable. We have an overwhelming tendency in the health profession to address diet, exercise, smoking and drinking over the simple fact that just having a solid relationship is more important.
How easy is it to be polite and have a small conversation with a coworker, neighbor, or stranger? When compared to changing your diet, starting a new workout regimen or quitting smoking, it is super easy. Not only that, it just plain feels good. Go ahead and try it as soon as you can. In the complicated world of today, we should cherish even the most trivial interactions as necessary to our health, well-being and survival. This small seed of change can help us get back to our heritage, be happier, and live longer.