Often times there is one family member or friend who reaches out consistently with invitations to bring people together for dinners, outings or celebrations. It usually just takes a little nudge to unite others. The nudge may be caring words, a laugh or a recollection of a memory. All of these stir our minds causing us to crave connection. For just like food and water, connection is a basic need of humans as it is hard wired into our DNA and is strongly evidenced in our evolutionary process. We are motivated by a wave of thoughts, actions and feelings that cause us to desire loving relationships, to fit in at school and work, to see friends do well and be cared for, to share good news with family, to cheer on our favorite team, and even to check in on Facebook. This psychological mechanism of motivational thought is what makes humans unique as ultra-social animals.
We, however, are losing our ultra-sociality. The average American in 1970 stated they had three close friends. The average American now reports 1.5 friends, despite our hundreds of friends on social media. Young children spend more time watching TV than talking with their parents. Many adolescent children struggle with the challenges of live in-person conversations as their conversations are primarily of pre-planned tweets, texts, or posts rather than spontaneous stream of thought. There is a steep rise in loneliness. To clarify, loneliness is not the absence of people around you. It is the absence in childhood and adulthood of the same interactions you needed as an infant to thrive – to be witnessed as a whole person by another who is willing to join you in the experience; to express your needs and have your needs acknowledged and responded to; to be supported and encouraged in exploring the world and pursuing goals by someone who will always be there when you return whether or not you were successful. Loneliness, although not measured as a cause of death, research has proven it increases your risk of death. Furthermore, divorce rates are at fifty percent and marriage satisfaction continues to decline.
It is well established in the scientific community that connection with others is good for your health and has been associated with increased immune activity and improved cardiovascular health, decreased chronic pain; likelihood of diabetes; stroke; cancer mortality and fatal accidents. One recent study showed people recovering from colds who received empathy from someone else for just 30 seconds per day recovered one day earlier than those who didn’t receive any empathy. Think about this next time your spouse or friend has a cold. Connection has also been attached to longevity as research as proven married couples and people with strong social connections live up to 5-7 years longer.
So if connection is associated with better health and longevity, how can we reverse the current trends of less sociality? We must become connection catalysts. Instead of waiting for that one family member or friend to extend the invitation, we ignite the connection. Start simple. Make a short list of family members and friends who are positive and supportive. Set a goal to reach out to at least one emotional connection each day. It can be a phone call, Skype session, or meeting over a cup of coffee. Use email, texting, and social sites for scheduling purposes but make the interaction live. Begin by putting all your devices away. Ask about their day, share what’s on your mind openly and honestly, and most importantly listen attentively. Next make social plans. Create opportunities to strengthen your relationship with fun things that you both will enjoy. Looking forward to special activities boosts our spirits, gives us energy and makes us more productive.
Sociality has been the key ingredient to our survival as a species. It’s time to turn the tide and make connection count. Be a Connection Catalyst!
“Man is by nature a social animal…Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”