Yes I know it is an advert, but the short 2 minute video below from Thailand beautifully illustrates the power of human connection.
It is certainly a sweet, feel-good video, but strong interpersonal connection is not just important for babies!
We were designed as relational beings and we thrive best in every area of life when we are strongly ‘in relationship’ with others. However, there is something about modern life that seems to conspire agains this.
A study published in August 2014 by Relate, a relationship charity in Britain found
- almost 1 in 10 people (close to 5 million people in the UK) stated that they had no close friends.
- more than 1/3 of working parents do not see or speak to their own children every day because they are too busy at the office.
- most workers have much more contact with their boss or colleagues than their own friends or close family
- in spite of the increased connectivity with work through email and mobile phones more than 4 in 10 said they had no real friends at work.
Another study by Juliane Holt-Lunstead at Bingham Young University found that loneliness and isolation is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or drinking excessively. Their conclusion was that friendship and family can improve health by providing support during tough times to help us find meaning in our lives.
This same research team also looked at 148 studies that tracked the relationships and health of 308,849 people over an average of 7 1/2 years. They found that sociable people had a 50% better survival rate. The reason for this they concluded was that when someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility to other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates in to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks.
I have certainly noticed that working as a psychiatrist and spoken to many people who have contemplated suicide. One of the questions we are taught to always ask is, ‘What keeps you from taking your life?’ And the consistent response is the devastating impact it would have on friends, family or other loved ones.
So how do we increase this human connection?
One of the important ways is through gratitude. Being thankful and expressing thanks to someone puts you in the centre of the way life was designed to be – in relationship. It literally bonds you to the other person in a deeper way and cements the connection.
Here are some practical steps:
1. Stop and reflect on the people and circumstances in your life that you are grateful for.
In other words, feel your feelings of gratitude. They will literally fill you your soul, create happy feelings and increase your sense of well-being.
2. Put words to your feelings of gratitude.
It is important to not just allow yourself to feel thankful in a vague or non-specific way. There is genuine power when we express our gratitude precisely and specifically through words. We are literally re-wiring our brains. That is why writing down things to be thankful for on a consistent basis can be so beneficial for mental health. Research has shown that having a gratitude journal in and of itself will improve your mood and help you feel less down (for more on that see here). In other words, happiness follows gratitude.
3. Express your gratitude to God through prayer and to other people.
This is such an unusual thing to do, but it can be enormously powerful in bringing about a connection with others. Most people are use to only being told what is wrong rather than what it is about the things they do that are appreciated by others. As you make the practice of expressing gratitude something you consistently build into your life, then the people you thank will be blessed and feel appreciated, and you will find yourself better connected to others as well.
(For another video and blog post on human connection, see The Power of Connecting With Your Past.)
So who do you need to connect with in your life?
What comments and questions does the issue of human connection raise for you?
Please feel free to write down your thoughts and comments.