You eat healthy. You exercise. You sleep a solid eight hours per night and work hard to manage your stress. Basically, you’re doing all the things you’ve been told you need to do in order to stay healthy.
But what you may not realize is that one of the greatest things impacting your health is something most of us rarely focus on consciously improving: social connection.
“Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity,” explained Vivek Murphy, Former Surgeon General of the United States, in a recent Harvard Business Review article.
To boot, recent studies have also found that social isolation has the ability to suppress immune function, disrupt sleep, heighten inflammation, and increase depression and blood pressure.
The hard truth is that if we aren’t focusing on increasing our sense of social connection, we’re missing a major component of our healthy living routine. We could be doing everything else right, but if we aren’t focusing on curbing loneliness, we might as well be chain-smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes per day!
That’s why taking actions to help improve our sense of connection is the ultimate health and happiness hack: Its effects will cascade into virtually every other area of our lives, improving the quality of our health and happiness in astounding ways.
Here are three powerful ways to give your body and soul the sense of social connection it craves and deserves.
1. Connect Less Online And More In Person
“We are the generation with 742 Facebook friends, 350 Twitter followers, 4 people who may or may not respond to an e-mail, 2 friends we grudgingly phone once in awhile…. and not one damn person we’d dial at 3 am when we’re on the bathroom floor asking the empty air why we feel so alone, so terrified, so lost.” – Brianna Wiliams
While social media can be a great way to keep in touch with the people in our lives, it can also drive a gnawing sense of loneliness within us, in part because we’re less likely to open up vulnerably via social media and more likely to share only our “highlight reels,” which often fuels a growing sense of envy, competition and separation between each other.
Go ahead, try it: Take a quick look through your Facebook or Instagram feed right now.
Does it seem like everyone but you is busy doing really awesome stuff all the time – taking exotic vacations, doing paddle boarding handstands, showing off their shiny new hairdos, or crafting immaculate homemade dishes?
Do you see a single post that exposes anyone’s struggles, resilience, or vulnerabilities, or do you perhaps begin to get the sense that you’re the only one who struggles from time to time?
Author Steven Furtick once wrote that “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” Perhaps nowhere is this more true than on social media, where the majority of people only share news of the happy and exciting events in their lives. After all, when you think you’re the only one who doesn’t have a perfect life, it can feel really isolating.
This cycle of posting only our highlight reels instantly kills any sense of vulnerability or authenticity among people, both of which are necessities for genuine emotional closeness. Without allowing the space to let ourselves to be seen wholly and authentically, no wonder social media is only making us lonelier.
Add to that the fact that this faux sense of social media connection is leading many of us to connect face-to-face with others less often than ever before, and you have the perfect storm to create a wave of loneliness that’s already beginning to sweep across the masses.
What would happen if you connected with friends and family in person as often as you connect with them online—and if you did so in an open, authentic and vulnerable way?
There’s only one way to find out.
2. Dive Deeper
“I have just now come from a party where I was its life and soul; witticisms streamed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me, but I went away— yes, the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth’s orbit ——————————— and wanted to shoot myself.“ – The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard, 1836
So you’re ready to connect with others face-to-face more often.
Developing healthy social connections isn’t just about having people around you, though—after all, it’s entirely possible to be surrounded by people, yet still feel a gnawing sense of loneliness.
So how can you approach in-person interactions in a way that forges meaningful connections, not shallow ones?
It turns out that developing rich and healthy connections has a lot to do with the quality and depth of your social interactions—and luckily, there’s a simple way to forge deeper connections with others and develop mutually rewarding bonds.
To form deeper bonds with others, try this: Make a point to ask them questions that delve beneath the surface—and don’t be afraid to allow yourself to open up and be vulnerable with people when it feels appropriate to do so.
You might try asking questions like,
- “For what in your life do you feel most grateful?”
- “If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?”
- “In five minutes, tell your life story in as much detail as possible.”
- “If you could wake up tomorrow having gained anyone quality or ability, what would it be?”
- “If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?”
- “Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?”
- “What do you value most in a friendship?”
- “What is your most treasured memory?”
- “What is your most terrible memory?”
- “If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?”
In fact, psychologists have discovered that by asking these types of questions in conversation, many people are able to form closer bonds with complete strangers than they report having with even the closest people in their lives!
It’s beautiful and true:
As humans, we we are wired to connect deeply with each other. Allowing for vulnerability and opening up to others about our struggles is the very glue that helps bond us together and forge deeper connections. @Giantgoodco (Click to Tweet!)
So don’t be afraid to dive deeper, deeper, “a thousand times deeper,” as the beloved poet Rumi once wrote.
3. Hack Your Way To Deeper Connections
“We are all well aware of the benefits of the social media age, but the challenge is finding a balance, and living a healthy and rich life both online and off. If we are not careful, our increasingly connected life can take a negative toll on our mind and body.” – Soren Gordhamer, Founder of Wisdom 2.0 and Cofounder of Lucid.
Many of us use apps that help us hack our weight, sleep, exercise, and so on—why not use one that helps us increase our sense of social connection, as well?
Like just about anything, our phones can either be healthy and beneficial or addictive and detrimental depending upon how we use them.
When used carelessly, they can fuel our growing sense of loneliness and disconnection, contributing to feelings of unhappiness.
But when used mindfully, our phones can actually add to our sense of connection, mindfulness, and well-being—and that’s the upside of technology.
One of my favorites is the app Giantgood, which offers simple daily prompts to choose from such as “List the ten most important people in your life—call one,” “Share your biggest hope with a friend,” and “Take time to get to know an officemate.”
While the app isn’t focused solely on social connection—it also delivers prompts related to resilience, learning, and mindfulness—it’s an effective way to simply and easily prioritize taking actions that will build a greater sense of connection with others. Think of Giantgood as a daily reminder to step out of your device and connect with the people around you in a more meaningful way.
Another favorite is the Dinnermode app, which helps you spend quality time with family or friends by challenging you to stay off your phone during dinner (although you can also use it anytime you want a tech-free experience).
The concept is simple: All you need to do is choose an amount of time you want to stay off your phone – 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or one hour – and then your phone prompts you to turn it upside down on a flat surface. If you pick your phone up before the timer ends, you fail the Dinnermode challenge!
By focusing on nurturing your social connections, you’re also strengthening the health of your body, mind and soul—and doing so doesn’t have to feel daunting. By implementing the simple tips above, strengthening your social connections can be as simple as taking a few impactful actions every day.
Now that’s something to feel good about.
What suggestions do you have for curbing loneliness and building healthy social connections?
Thérèse Schwenkler is the Creative Editor for Giantgood, an app that helps you take the actions you’ve been meaning to take – things like writing that thank you letter, calling your brother, or saying “hello” to a stranger – and connects you with what matters most by providing you with simple daily acts that can be completed in just minutes each day. Download it on your iPhone or Android today and step into a life with greater joy, connection, and meaning! Connect with Thérèse on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Image courtesy of Helena Lopes.