Social Connection – Key to a Flourishing Life

Why we thrive when we actively connect with our ‘village’

If the long weeks of pandemic isolation and social distancing taught us one thing, it gave us an opportunity to appreciate and value our social connections and most supportive friendships. Indeed, one of the main reasons humans have flourished on this planet is because of our cooperative behaviours; our ability to help, support and share new knowledge with each other.

Correspondingly, research shows that the most effective way to foster happiness and inner well-being in ourselves is to open oneself up, make oneself available, and be there (be generous, helpful, kind, supportive) for others.

What is it with social connection? Why does it heal us in profound ways, raise us to greater emotional heights, and quite literally compel us to live longer? If authentic, vulnerable connection with others is such a powerful force for good, how on earth can we embrace and enhance it in our modern, disconnected lives?

We are ‘village’ people, and – as social distancing highlighted – even the most introverted or isolated among us cannot live a truly flourishing life without reaching out in vulnerable moments. Social connection is a vital key to our well-being. And that means we can all benefit from emphasising connecting more deeply, and more frequently, with the people around us.

Of course, personal interaction and socialisation are not one-size-fits-all kinds of affairs. Striving for greater social connection doesn’t mean we all become social butterflies, with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. And neither does it mean we all begin to limit our social relationships to one or two intimate friends. However, regardless of how ‘social’ we naturally feel or how comfortable we are in social settings, there are ways we can each strive to enhance our social connectedness:

Break the ice: introduce yourself to ‘strangers’ you see often — the regulars at your favourite park, the barista at the local coffee shop, the familiar faces on the morning train. You’re not expected to become friends with these people, but a simple handshake and a “Hey, I see you all the time and feel like I should know your name” can do wonders for creating a more connected community.

Allow for friendships that feel good (rather than look good): We all have unique reasons for choosing particular friends or seeking out particular social groups. However, if your social choices are purely based on who is most connected, most cool, or most useful to you, you may struggle in times of vulnerability. Allow yourself to (also) build and foster authentic friendships — people who may not offer you all you desire on a material level, but that lift you, inspire you, and leave you feeling good about yourself.

Prioritise social connection in your schedule: It doesn’t matter how busy we get, we always benefit from finding time for the things that we value most. Set aside time each day, week, month (depending on your personal circumstances) to catch up with authentic friends. Sharing meals is a powerful way to connect so if your days are super demanding, share some of your breakfasts, lunches or dinners with your most valued friends and family.

Aim to be a safe space for others: We’re all human and, therefore, we all have the capacity to judge, criticise, gossip and demean. However, in order to foster greater social connection, it’s imperative we try to rise above unhelpful and unhealthy behaviours and habits. Become aware of how you react to others in need. Aim to be less judgmental, more understanding; less critical, more helpful; less aloof, more engaged. Healthy social connectedness is a team sport and creating an environment where we all thrive, starts with you.

Practice vulnerability and help-seeking: In the developed world, in particular, we have come to view vulnerability and help-seeking as a weakness. We have come to regard self-sufficiency as the single greatest factor of success, and we have forgotten that the human experience is often defined, not by how hard someone persevered and toiled, but by their personal luck or providence. Needing help is not a weakness; it is an inevitable by-product of a fickle human existence. Learn to open up when you are in those inevitable and understandable moments of need. Reach out to those you trust most and allow those who wish to help, an opportunity to do so.

Philosophers have long contemplated why we chose, as a species, to live in communities. Why form social groups when we can easily sustain ourselves alone? The answer, some maintain, is simply because we cannot imagine living without social connection; we cannot flourish as individuals without supporting each other through life’s troubles.

Our modern lives may have removed many of us from that lynchpin of human connection — the village — but recent events have given us an opportunity to reinvigorate our relationship with ‘the tribe’ around us. As we navigate a society that is increasingly more isolated, lonely, and socially disconnected, it is up to us to answer the call for greater connection; to open up, reach out, connect authentically … and thrive in each other’s spaces.

I am making 2024 the Year of Living Deeper and, this month, I am exploring the importance of social connection and deep, authentic relationships.

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