Phone calls are the number one way I improve my mood. When I’m feeling down or confused or alone, I pick up the phone and call a friend. It doesn’t really matter what we talk about, as long as I get to hear their voice for a few minutes my mood improves. It’s for this reason that I also save voicemails from loved ones regardless of their content. It turns out, something I believed to be true has now been proven by multiple studies.
I listened to a recent mini-episode of the podcast Invisibilia that was all about voicemails. They discussed research by Dr.Leslie Seltzer of the University of Wisconsin and by Dr.Theresa Page of Northwestern University.
Dr.Seltzer had participants take a stressful test and then either called their moms or messaged them. Those who called their moms were flooded with oxytocin, AKA the love hormone, and their stress hormones decreased, while those who just texted didn’t experience any change. Another study by Dr.Seltzer showed that hearing a loved one’s voice had almost the same effects in the brain as hugging someone. Dr.Page studied coma patients and found that those who were played recordings of their friends’ and families’ voices recovered more quickly.
Those studies definitively prove something I think most people already know: the human voice is powerful. However, I think that most people don’t turn that knowledge into action. Folks will call their parents or grandparents just to talk and catch up, but peers are more relegated to keeping up via social media and texting. I’m not saying that these new tools for connecting don’t have value, but their role should be supplementary in maintaining friendships, especially long distance.
Since graduating college, I’ve realized what a luxury it was to spend so much time among friends. Everything since graduating has been an adjustment, but this has probably been the greatest. I’m far from having it figured out, but one thing that’s working so far is calling my friends. I fit in phone calls when I’m cooking dinner, going for a walk or cleaning my room and they make the time fly by, no matter if the call is fifteen or fifty minutes.
I recently called my friend Laura, whom I’ve known for years and has helped me through some of my darkest times. She was on her way to the grocery and we talked for her whole journey there. We didn’t talk about anything special: some work stuff, some relationship stuff, people we both know. Half of the phone call was her random reactions and observations on her way to the grocery, little tangents shooting off in every direction or her rambling. At one point while she was rambling I told her I wished I could listen to a podcast of her going about her day, an idea we then riffed on for a few minutes. Maya Angleou famously said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” With great friends, it doesn’t matter what you talk about or what you do, because the warm feeling of connecting to and trusting another human remains the same.
Friends enhance our lives. Plato and Aristotle wrote about friendship, and Epicurus even centered his philosophy around friendship saying, “Before you eat or drink anything, carefully consider with whom you eat or drink rather than what you eat or drink because eating without a friend is the life of the lion or a wolf.” I’m sure that if he were alive today he would urge us to consider scrolling less and calling more. We’d all be better off for it.