This is a time of great struggle for many. I see and feel it when moving about in the community and in the work I do daily. It saddens me, as so many people feel isolated and alone in their experiencing of life. They also believe that they are doing something wrong, are ‘broken’ or are different, often noting the perceived happiness of others as proof that they are alone in their suffering. Though this is far from the truth, social media postings of photoshopped selfies and staged happiness reinforces otherwise.
Every day, all day, people are being inundated with horrible news stories of various atrocities being committed around the world. It is overwhelming and terrifying. It can make many feel hopeless and helpless. Though there are vast amounts of loving and generous acts being gifted, these do not sell headlines. Stories that trigger fear and tragedy gain more attention and thus, have cultivated a general distrust of others. There has been a hardening of some hearts and a turning away from others–especially those most in need of compassion or a simple hug.
Technology is impressive and has yielded some incredible advances that have greatly benefited us. I am not discounting that. However, technology has also created a barrier to socialization. It has impeded people’s ability to connect to others and fully engage in daily experiences. Though social media allows for a connection to a greater number of people, those connects lack depth. For many, it is a competition of who can create the most impressive story boarding of a life that does not exist. A relationship may be in turmoil and a couple may take pictures of trips, dates, and artificial words of being soul mates. In my practice, I once had a 9-year old child tell me how he prefers the virtual world because he likes the character he developed there more than his real self. That is heart breaking and it shows how a person can be so disconnected. Having an impressive number of friends on his/her social media page did not assuage the feeling of being alone.
So, what is the cure? CONNECTION. A genuine sharing and exchange between two or more people. Human connection to others, whether individuals or to a community, has been shown to be the number one predictor in happiness by research. It is also strongly related to recovery from addiction, illness, and longevity of life. Simply put: We are built to connect. It is both critical for our well-being and to shift from a state of surviving to thriving.
In an effort to cultivate more love and feeling of belonging, here are some suggestions to create meaningful connection:
- Be genuine. It may be hard to feel vulnerable but it is necessary for depth and meaning in a relationship. People can only be as close to you as you allow. Thus, be truthful about how you feel, what you think, your dreams, your interests and your full spectrum of experiences It invites others to be close and to do the same.
- Eliminate toxic relationships. Assess the overtones of your relationships and note which ones are mostly positive and negative. Be wary of ones in which you feel like you need to prove your value. If that is the dynamic, it tends to feeds the sense of being broken or undeserving. Recognize your inherent value and your worthiness of love. Eliminate energy drains and invest in relationships and people that feed your soul.
- Join groups or activities surrounding your interests. Join a run club, volunteer, take writing classes, music lessons etc etc. This creates opportunities to feel included and develop connections with others who have shared interests. It can foster a sense of being part of a community.
- Be present and engage. If out with a friend or family member, limit use of electronics. Limit distractions and fully attend to the experience. Have a conversation about this with friends and a commitment to invest in the time together. Engaging in parallel experiences while distracted with electronics does not constitute quality time.
- Connect to others through activities not involving electronics. This could include board games, walks, art activities, etc with friends and most importantly, spouses/children/family.
- Develop rituals of connection. Have daily rituals related to leaving/returning home. I encourage ‘check ins’: Know important events happening to those you love and upon return home, ask about them. Connect through conversation and attentive listening.
- Smile and acknowledge others. This may prove difficult, as you will likely see the level of disconnect and distraction in others. However, there are many individuals also in search of connecting. If you are not aware, you may miss beautiful opportunities of simple exchanges. Friendly exchanges with unfamiliars can lessen the feel of isolation.
- Human touch. Spend time cuddling with significant others and kids. Hug, hold hands, and just enjoying being close. Physical touch is an excellent way to connect even if it does not accompany talking.
- Companion animal. Animals and pets are great ways to feel connected. I encourage that they are not the only source of your emotional attachments; rather, they serve as additions to your love and connecting network.
- Limit use of social media. Many people cannot help but compare themselves to others and their lives. I encourage you to stop. You are internalizing untruths, photoshopped images, and stories of living that are often fabricated. Detoxing and limiting of electronics use often improves mood and happiness with self on its own.
I invite you to look for opportunities to create the life you desire. Invest in the life you have, not the one created through technology and social media. Emoji icons of hearts and text messages of love cannot replace the value of, or need for, a physical hug from a loved one. Enrich your present experiences and relationships by fully engaging in the moment and by being genuine. Seek out opportunities and people that challenge you to grow and develop in a way that is uplifting and exciting. Eliminate activities and relationships that cause pain, stress, and prove to be an energy drain. Connect, Connect, Connect.