Microdose #004: Make Meaningful Connections
Having meaningful relationships with others makes us happy, healthy, and more satisfied with our lives.
BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front):
C.S. Lewis once said “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” While a beautiful sentiment, the great author might actually have been wrong. New evidence suggests that those who feel connected to others have a healthier body mass index, improved cancer survival rates, decreased cardiovascular mortality, reduced depressive symptoms, and improved overall mental health.
Having meaningful relationships with others makes us happy, healthy, and more satisfied with our lives. Take proactive steps to make meaningful connections with friends, family, and new acquaintances daily to maintain mental and physical wellbeing. In The Plan we’ll show you how to accomplish this.
A survey revealed that nearly eight in 10 members of Gen Z (79%) are lonely, and seven in 10 (71%) of millennials. The youngest among us are the most lonely, with boomers coming in at only 50%. This is a growing problem with three in five Americans reporting feeling lonely. Loneliness impacts every avenue of our life: from weight, to mental health, to performance at work. The huge increase in social media usage, along with the pandemic, has only increased isolation and isolating behavior. The prolonged loneliness of quarantine and social distancing produces something in our brain that is akin to physical hunger. Social contact is now understood to be a basic need, just like food.
- Social relationships benefit our physical health. As an example, “supportive interactions with others benefit immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular functions.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/
- From 1984 to 2004 the number of people who said that they had no one with whom to discuss important matters tripled. Perceived availability of social support, on the other hand, makes us less depressed overall.
- We work better together. Studies have shown that social interaction (not just an excess of brain power) enables two people to finish tasks more efficiently together, than separate. https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13423-014-0765-4
In the days of social distancing and increased digital interactions, it can be a daunting task to start connecting with people and building new friendships. There are a million and one resources, from serious medical journals to articles in Cosmo, about how to make and maintain adult relationships. Still, making friends can be extremely challenging, and it only gets harder the older you get. Here is a method that we’ve found helpful in maintaining regular social interactions, and deepening our existing connections:
Catalog your connections:
It’s important to remember that making meaningful connections starts, not with others, but with yourself. We often tend to place the onus for losing touch on others. It can be helpful to do a bit of self-reflection. Grab a notebook and make the following lists:
- Who do I talk to regularly? Notate which you tend to speak with one to one, and which are in group settings (e.g. group chat threads)?
- Who regularly expresses interest in my activities (e.g. comments on my social media posts)?
- If something major happened in your life, who would you tell?
- Who are the people from your past that you find yourself thinking of?
- Think about the last great conversation you had. What was it about? Who was it with?
As you review your lists, ask yourself:
- When was the last time I reached out to this person to ask about them?
- Do I know what’s going on in their life? Do I assume that they know what’s going on in mine? (Don’t rely on the fact that they follow you on social media.)
- Do conversations with this person flow organically, or can they be awkward? Have I tried a different communication channel (e.g. if text message threads always drop off, have I tried a phone call or video chat?)
Look beyond common interests. Be interested.
The first thing we tend to consider when making connections is shared interests and experiences. This is the most common way we find friends -- classmates in college, those working similar positions at a company, going to the same concert in high school, etc... While common ground is a great starting place for friendships, we would encourage you to challenge your idea of what this means. Being curious about others passions will open you up to a world of new connections.
Think about the people you might have put on the back burner in your life because your interests have drifted and now seem disparate. Is there something that you could perhaps learn from them? As an example, a friend of yours might start roller skating as a hobby. Even though you have never had any particular interest in this, you might send them a message saying how much they are progressing, and ask what made them interested in the hobby. In just one or two sentences your interest has created a wonderful square of common ground on which both of you can stand.
Be the initiator:
Identify three people from the lists you made, who you have either lost touch with, or lost interest in, and shoot them a text, saying that you’ve been thinking of them. This might go unanswered, or only lead to a shallow reply, but regardless of outcome, you have made an effort to keep the lines open. The kindling of large friendships can be tiny moments of connection.
Create opportunities to practice small talk:
It’s not just deep friendships that are valuable for our wellbeing. Social interactions of all sorts are beneficial. Find ways to practice small talk and make connections daily, whether it’s with the cashier at the local grocery store or the person dropping off your delivery tacos.
- Be present - while it can be tempting to walk through daily routines in our own heads, by making an effort to be present and in the moment, we will be more aware of opportunities to interact with those around us.
- Maintain routines - if social interactions are a struggle for you, it can help to create regular routines that allow you to see the same people over and over again, until you’ve developed comfort, and eventually a good rapport.
Try out some big talk:
Small talk is great, but it’ll only get you so far. Don’t be afraid to start fresh discussions, share your passions, and go beyond the pleasantries. Here are a few prompts you can use to initiate deeper conversations:
- If you could travel backward or forward in time, but it was a one way trip, which way would you go, and how far?
- Share interesting articles in a group chat and ask a specific accompanying question that is open ended.
- Lately I’ve been really grateful for...What are you grateful for today? (This one can feel a little silly, or even stilted, with newer connections, but is a great way to delve deeper with people you’ve known for a bit.)
Write a letter:
This step is not about making new connections, but deepening our most valuable ties. Think about someone that has had an outsized impact in your life, be it a relative, a childhood friend, or a colleague, and write them a physical letter. Tell them about the ways that their friendship has affected your life. This experience can be extremely cathartic. You may find the act so enjoyable that it becomes a regular practice in your life.
Alex - Being homeschooled through high school, I struggled in my late teens and early twenties to make deep, meaningful relationships. My social growth was slightly stunted. Making sure to tell people when I was thinking of them, or saw something that I thought might interest them was a huge leap forward for me. The biggest thing that helped me, was never assuming someone else’s lack of interest. When I had something weird to share that I had learned, I would share it with a few of my girlfriends, even if I thought they would not be interested at all. Sometimes they weren’t, but sometimes I would be surprised, and we would have a stronger relationship for having shared something new together.
Frank - I’m not great at maintaining friendships. I found it very helpful to catalog my connections and based on those lists, I’ve kicked off a few group text threads, which have kept me going through the pandemic. We also instituted a family newsletter that we physically mail out toward the beginning of the year. We even hired an artist on Instagram to draw our card. Several of our friends have taken to sending us letters back.