5 Ways to Add More Moments of Social Connection to Your Life
Did you know that relationships are critical for human health?
Posted Jul 09, 2019
Relationships—including brief positive moments of connection—are vital for our emotional and physical health, well-being, and how we experience our lives.
Robust scientific evidence validates the benefits of relationships. According to neuroscientist Julianne Holt-Lunstadt (2015), social connections may be a critical factor for survival. Even the briefest moments of connection can make a positive difference in your life.
Loneliness and social isolation affect many of us these days. A recent article in the Monitor on Psychology (American Psychological Association, 2019) cites multiple research studies showing that lack of social connection increases health risk in similar ways to obesity, smoking, and lack of physical activity (Novotney, 2019; Alcaraz, 2019; Holt-Lunstad, 2015). In fact, a meta-analysis published in Perspectives on Psychological Science (Holt-Lundstad et al., 2015) showed that social isolation and loneliness were two times more harmful than obesity to mental and physical health.
Other people matter
Christopher Peterson, an influential researcher in the field of positive psychology frequently declared “other people matter.” Peterson (2006) is known for his visionary work on the factors that promote human potential and a life well-lived. Relationships are one of those factors. The scientific model of five core pillars for well-being and happiness — PERMA — proposed by Peterson’s pioneering colleague Martin Seligman (2011) outlines positive relationships as a cornerstone for a fulfilling life. Relationships are one of the five core pillars: Positive emotions, Engagement (flow), positive Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments.
Fast forward to the work of psychologist Barbara Fredrickson (2013), a leading researcher on emotions and relationships. Her findings are astounding:
“The new take on love that I want to share with you is this. Love blossoms virtually any time two or more people —even strangers—connect over a shared positive emotion, be it mild or strong” (2013).
Thus, brief moments of connection can offer major benefits. Fredrickson terms this positivity resonance, a concept explaining that when two people share positive emotions—even just momentarily—there is a synchrony between their biochemistry and behaviors, which can result in mutual connection and investment in each other’s well-being (2013). She calls these small positive interactions micro-moments of connection. Fredrickson’s findings show positive emotions and love as essential components of the human survival toolkit, building bonds and creating community.
In her book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, and Become, Fredrickson cites research showing that love actually changes the body’s chemistry. In other words, humans are hard-wired for connection and oneness. For example, moments of love and positivity resonance increase levels of the hormone oxytocin, which influences behavior, social interaction, and levels of calm. Experiencing love and connection can also support vagal tone, helping our body regulate our emotions and deal with life’s stresses.
5 Actions to Add Positive Moments of Relationship to Daily Life
1. Even fleeting moments of connection can nourish. Take a moment to say hello to people as you go through your day—the woman who serves you coffee, the cashier at the grocery store, your colleague or co-worker. Ask how that person is and really listen to the response.
2. Increase your opportunities to interact with others. Try an activity at the community center, take a class, join a spiritual group, go for a walk in the mall, your neighborhood, or around your office.
3. Engage your strength of kindness to become involved in something larger than yourself. Work at the food pantry, visit a friend or acquaintance who’s lonely or ill, offer to help someone carry their groceries to the car, give up your seat on the bus or in a waiting area, let someone in front of you in line.
4. Share from your own wellspring of experience. Consider what you might like from others to help you feel more connected, and offer this to someone else—a friend, family member, co-worker, or neighbor. Perhaps you can offer an invite to lunch, an impromptu phone call, or a hearty handshake.
5. Reflect on phrases of loving-kindness. This type of compassionate meditation practice, which has evolved from Buddhist origins, can help us open our hearts, feel more interconnected, and create habits of goodwill toward others (Fredrickson, 2013). In quiet moments of reflection, you might reflect on loving-kindness phrases, directing them toward a particular person—or toward the world in general. Examples of loving-kindness phrases include: May you be safe; May you be well; May you be happy (Salzburg, 2010; Fredrickson, 2013). You can develop loving-kindness into a positive habit. For more information on loving-kindness meditations, see Salzburg (2010).
This post is for educational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.
Fredrickson, B.L. (2013). Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity: Top-notch research reveals the upward spiral that will change your life. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.
Fredrickson, B. (2013). NIH Record : Fredrickson describes nourishing power of small positive moments. LXV (10). https://nihrecord.nih.gov/newsletters/2013/05_10_2013/story3.htm
Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: A meta-analytic review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10, 227-237.
Novetney, A. (2019) Social isolation: It could kill you. Monitor on Psychology 50(5). https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation
Peterson C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Salzburg, S. (2010). The force of kindness. Change your life with love & compassion. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York, NY: Atria Paperback.