Updated: May 18
The topic of human connectedness is fascinating. Countless studies have revealed the interplay between feeling connected to others and enhanced mental and emotional wellbeing. Meaningful social connections make you happier and give life meaning.
This doesn't surprise me, because I know how uplifting it is to spend time with family and friends to whom I feel deeply connected. Don't you? But there's more...
Meaningful social connections prolong your life! There is an impact to physical health too. The potential life expectancy boost of good relationships is 7 to 10 years*. Incredible. Taking care of oneself goes far beyond eating your veggies and working out; we NEED human connection to thrive.
Good relationships are defined not by the number of friends you have, or whether you are married or not, but by the quality of your close relationships. Who do you feel really has your back? Who could you turn to if you were sick, scared, or in trouble? Those are the people essential to maintaining your happiness and health.
What, specifically, about good relationships is so beneficial?
A leading theory is that good relationships are stress regulators. When something stressful happens during your day, but you have someone to talk to at home, or a friend to call, you feel your body calm down and the fight or flight stress response subsides. For people who are isolated or lonely, the stress does not subside. Chronic stress, with chronic levels of inflammation and circulating stress hormones, wears away happiness and breaks down different body systems.
When you think about your relationships, how fulfilled or lacking do you feel? What opportunities exist to nurture and strengthen your relationships? Here are some things you can do today, tomorrow, and beyond:
Take initiative and proactively reach out to friends to organize time together
Establish routines with the people most important to you (e.g. a regularly scheduled phone call, a weekly coffee meeting)
Connect with people around a shared interest (e.g. volunteering, a sport, a hobby)
Liven up long-standing relationships with a change to your routine
Get comfortable striking up casual conversations
Show genuine interest in the lives of others
Reach out to someone you've lost contact with and miss
While our closest relationships are most impactful, ALL types of relationships support our wellbeing (family, friends, coworkers, and casual contacts such as the checkout clerk you see weekly or regulars at your gym).
So, take steps to strengthen the social connections in your life. You will create your own positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical wellbeing, and add a few years to your life while you are at it!
*Based on findings from the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a comprehensive longitudinal study spanning 85 years and counting, formed to answer the question "What makes a good life?"
Connection to others is a core human experience and a recurring theme in the coaching conversations I have with clients. As discussed, quality connections are fundamental to our wellbeing. Toxic, unproductive connections have the opposite effect. We could all use a reminder to nurture and practice the things that are good for us. My goal, with this blog, is to provoke thought, prompt self-reflective questions, and provide context for moving forward in an intentional, positive way.