Friends Having Fun

Most of us focus on wellness through diet and fitness, but connecting with others, finding our tribe, and cultivating meaningful relationships is equally as important. Our lives have become so consumed with protecting ourselves and our families that connecting with people outside our bubble has inevitably fallen through the cracks. Loneliness is a new epidemic. And many of us, including me, want to rebuild those connections.

“Some people think they are in community, but they are in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.”

—David Spangler

I recently read the following Instagram post by Jewel: “Did you ever consider that if you feel lonely, there’s a chance it could be your own fault? Often times, we’re lonely because we aren’t willing to be honest and vulnerable about the truth of who we are. We’re so busy trying to present a better version of ourselves that we never feel seen. The result is loneliness.” 

This got me thinking. I’m not lonely because I’m trying to appear better than I am, I’m just playing it safe. Neither is ideal. Many of us continue to worry about COVID-19 in addition to being overwhelmed by social divisiveness. Opting-into isolation, hence loneliness, is a natural progression. We’ve morphed into less vulnerable versions of ourselves for fear of aggressive judgement. This subconsciously encourages us to create safe, shiny public perceptions of ourselves. It’s not real; it’s lonely.

Dr. Vivek Murthy points out in his new book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connectedness in a Sometimes Lonely World, the true currency of social connection is vulnerability, empathy, and focused attention. He cites powerful research behind loneliness; how it makes us sad and can cripple us. He also shows us how to fight it.

He explains there are three kinds of loneliness: intimate, relational and collective. Intimate loneliness is when you lack close connections with your spouse or best friend. Relational loneliness is when you lack connections with people you might have over for dinner. Collective loneliness is when you lack a sense of community.

“These different bonds all help sustain us in their own way. If we have intimate ties in our life, that’s deeply fulfilling. But if we don’t have friendships with people who can help extend those ties or with whom we can spend time, or if we don’t have a community that we feel a part of and identify with, then we can experience loneliness even though we’re in a fulfilling marriage or even though we have a best friend.”

—Dr. Vivek Murthy

Society tells us we’re not thin enough, good looking enough, popular enough, smart enough, or rich enough. If we feel we aren’t enough, it impacts our ability to connect with other people because rather than approaching them from a place of groundedness and centeredness, we’re approaching them from a place of insecurity and fear. 

I find that casual connections are much harder to establish in adulthood, especially when we’re knee-deep in career and family demands. But, it’s important we keep trying to connect. Casual connections have been proven to reduce stress, repair emotional damage, and promote meaning and purpose.

Studies show 22% of Americans are struggling with loneliness. So, how do we proactively opt-out of loneliness and increase closeness?

How to Increase Closeness

Our first step to reconnect and increase closeness is to visit Greater Good in Action, a partnership between UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and HopeLab. They’ve created a guide to help us increase closeness. 

Next, we plan to meet with the people we want to connect with on a deeper level. This can be done in person or virtually. Then, we alternate asking interesting and vulnerable questions they provide. It’s enlightening how deeply informative, comical, and emotional these conversations can be.

Sample Questions:

1.  Is there anything you would change about how you were raised?

2.  If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about something, what would you want to know?

3.  If you knew you would die within a year, what if anything would you change about the way you’re living now?

Humans socially groom by telling stories, responding, laughing and synchronizing with each other. Laughter is the most contagious, universal, and instinctive connector, having the power to reduce stress by inducing a positive biochemical response. 

“On average, it takes 50 hours of interaction to go from acquaintance to friend and 200 hours to get to close friend. Real friendships rarely happen overnight. They build over time through sharing moments of joy and moments of heartache.”

—Adam Grant

We are creatures of community and The Remarkable Story of Roseto is a great example. In the 1960’s, no one living in Roseto, Pennsylvania who was under the age of 55 had died of a heart attack. Researchers began looking at the DNA, diet, and other lifestyle factors to understand why. They found that the town’s sense of community was the key to their wellness. By the 80’s, the focus on community in Roseto diminished and the rate of fatal heart attacks increased to the national average. It’s true, connection binds the heart.

If you’re looking for additional ways to flee loneliness and increase closeness, the podcast ‘Why We’re So Lonely and How to Create Deeper, More Meaningful Friendships‘ is a great listen. And this 10 minute Meditation for Loneliness oozes of well-being goodness, too.

Maybe it’s time we find a way to break free from our safe, shiny social media posts and take a vulnerable deep dive into ourselves and each other. I think sharing our honest, open-hearted, open-minded, empathetic, non-judgemental and trustworthy human experiences is just what the doctor ordered. And like my wise grandmother used to say, “Leave the politics and religion out of it.” 

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