July 9, 2017

Cultivating Connection – The Road To Happiness

Human connection has broad implications for how much happier we are. Whatever is your inherent nature, research is proving that to feel happy and to flourish, humans must feel connected.

Historically, humans lived in groups to build shelter, find food, and protect themselves from wild animals or other groups of humans. This power in numbers, and group dwelling allowed human species to survive waves of sickness, war, and natural disaster—humans who lived together simply had a greater chance of survival and propagating their species.

Studies has shown that when people are lonely, inflammation increase, sleep becomes more difficult, and immunity decreases. Brain scan has shown that social rejection triggers the same region in the brain as physical pain.

Human Connection Mechanism

Humans have multiple systems designed to help bond with others. These include:

  • Vocalization – Humans primarily use vocalizations to communicate. Ability to speak is one of the ways one can connect. And even without language, the quality of the sound can convey varied emotions. Imagine of a deep inhalation that reflects fear or a low hum denotes satisfaction.
  • Touch – Both comfort and joy can be conveyed through touch. Research have proven that touch have healing and connective quality.
  • Vagus nerve – The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the autonomic nervous system and plays an integral role in many important organs. New studies are showing that the vagal system which is a part of the autonomic nervous system, which controls functions of the body that are not under voluntary control, such as heart rate and digestion, also greatly impacts your ability to connect with others. Activating the vagal nerve is connected to the compassionate response, and even a simple touch can initiate a positive response.
  • Oxytocin – A Neurotransmitter in one brain is responsible for controlling human behavior and social interaction, sometimes known as the love hormone. It is widely believed to promote the bonding between mother and baby as well as lovers and friends.
  • Empathy circuits – These circuits found in a part of the brain called the supramarginal gyrus allow you to differentiate your emotions from those of others, while recognizing that their experience is different than your own. This allows for understanding of one another.
  • Reward circuitry – The dopamine is the chemical in your brain that gives you a good feeling for completing a task successfully. It’s why you can become addicted to games like Pokémon Go or Candy Crush, but it is also why you feel better when you have positive social interactions in your life.

The science of connection shows that how connected you feel is relevant to your wellness. Benefits can be gained from connecting both in person as well as online. It is a common misconception that the being lonely is the opposite of connected. You can be alone without feeling loneliness. The converse is also true: you can be surrounded by people and yet feel all alone.

Practices to Cultivate Connection?

  1. Initiate. Instead of waiting for the text, the call, or the invitation, be the one who makes plans for social outings.
  2. Send Life Updates. When you are short on time, a quick email to update your parents, siblings, and friends on your life can keep connections alive. Sometimes one may think that we need to make time for a conversation, gathering, or visit, but don’t let that need for a perfect opportunity keep you from connecting at all. In my family, we do short email blurbs about the sometimes boring details of our lives. This allows us a feeling of still being a part of one another’s lives even when we are separated by distance.
  3. Practice Gratitude. When you revere the feeling a generous act or a gift someone gives you, it helps to bind you to one another. Gratitude allows a sense of peace in the present of something from the past, effectively allowing you to re-live something good.
  4. Acceptance. When you see someone as they truly are, faults and flaws as well as the good stuff, it creates a bonding between you and the humanity. Acceptance enhances your mindfulness while not needing to change someone now or in the future.
  5. Forgiveness. Moving on from the past dissolves guilt, anger, and fear and allows everyone in the relationship a fresh start. There is a powerful truth to the words “we all make mistakes” and acknowledging this helps you to move past those emotions toward healing. Holding onto anger is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.
  6. Humor. Shared laughter is a wonderful building block for a relationship.