I loved Sesame Street when I was young. But I remember Snuffie (full name Aloysius Snuffleupagus) was pretty shy for a long time. When I was a kid he used to hide away and everyone thought he was Big Birds “imaginary friend”.
But recently I’ve been watching Sesame Street with my daughter, and Snuffie’s a different Snuffleupagus!
Thanks to Wikipedia I’ve learned that Snuffie came out of hiding in 1985, after Big Bird insisting that all the adults needed to come and meet him, and Elmo holding onto him so he wouldn’t run away, which was what he usually did when the grown ups came around.
I reckon that’s the value of having really close friends who stick by you. And research would tend to suggest that Big Bird being so close to Snuffie probably helped him to overcome shyness and start making new friends.
So who’s your Big Bird?
Studies into the effects of friendships have shown some pretty amazing effects, including making you live longer. Interestingly these effects seem to be more consistent and stronger than having a spouse, it appears that when it comes to physical health effects and longevity having close friends is better than being married.
In one Swedish study having a social network was studied as a protective factor for cardiac disease. Being married had no effect, but having close friends did. And the only thing that was as stronger risk factor as being socially isolated was smoking. That’s right: social isolation in later life is as dangerous as smoking.
Sometimes it can be hard to motivate ourselves too, and numerous studies have found having someone cheer us along actually makes hard tasks seem easier.
One study looked at two groups of students who were tasked with running up a hill with a weighted backpack on. One sample did it on their own, the second group with a friend cheering them on alongside. They then asked the students to rate how steep the hill was. The students whose friends helped rated the hill as much less steep than the solo runners, and in fact less steep than it actually was.
What does all this mean?
You see, we all need friends and meaningful human contact. And if part of your shyness and social anxiety means you don’t have as many friends as you would like, know that the more you are able to connect with people the better it is for your health, and that things will seem easier.
Do you think we all need our own Big Bird? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
All the best, Kyle
PS: Here’s a clip from Sesame Street when Big Bird met Snuffie for the first time!