1 = Connection
“It is not good for man to be alone” Genesis, 2:18
Imagine if I told you that you could have every material item in the world. You could have every house, every car, all the money in the world. Most people would bite my hand off. However, there is one condition. You can never see any other person ever again. The situation flips and most people would reject my offer. This decision is a prime example of the power of connection, which is our first way of well being. When we speak about connection, we refer to the bonds we create and develop with our families, our friends and sometimes even strangers.
A study in 2010 found that loneliness is more likely to kill you than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. A study by House and colleagues found that loneliness made death twice as likely for men and 2.8 times more likely for women. This is quite scary when you think about how many people we all know that are lonely. Sure; most people have family and friends but they might not have a sense of connection. We also live in a society that does not promote connection. Picture the tube on a busy work morning in London. Lots of people but no connections. It’s also easy to picture the young professional who wants to push up the corporate ladder by neglecting her family and friends. 'I will have time to connect when I am financially independent'. The biggest lie you will ever tell yourself. But surely, loneliness can’t kill someone? No it cannot. But it has a huge impact on direct killers. Loneliness makes stressful situations far more stressful. It also causes people to have less of a sense of self. Furthermore, it increases the risk of heart disease, it decreases the likelihood of healthy behaviours such as exercise, and it weakens our immune system. So it’s kind of a big deal. And on a final point, it is actually imprinted into our genes. The cave person who were able to connect with others and hunted in packs survived. The lone rangers didn’t. So that explosion of positive neurochemicals when we connect with others is a learned response in our brains.
So what can we do when we’re feeling lonely? The immediate solution is environment. Put yourself into an arena where you can meet new people such as a club or society. And that’s great. But that’s not enough. We need to learn how to internally alleviate loneliness. We do so by teaching children that it is important that they take the situation into their own hands. If you are in a situation where you are by yourself and you are feeling lonely, you need to go up to people and connect with them. If you stand back and wait and hope that someone comes to you, you are allowing your negative situation of loneliness to be governed by factors outside of your control. And if you get rejected, which you will, this is a good way of building character. And this same advice works for every adult also. Are you lonely at home with nothing to do> Put the situation into your own hands and take action. Call that friend you haven’t seen in a long time. Create plans. Your inner voice might try to stop you because of fear of rejection but tell that inner voice to shut up. It will be worth it when that situation of loneliness is replaced by connection.
At our parent seminars, we often get the response of “what if our children are introverted?”. Introversion is an excuse. Regardless of if you are introverted, everyone needs connection and particularly adolescents. Parents don’t know what adolescents are going through in their day to day life because they lived in a different generation so it is essential that teenagers have friends of a similar age to confide with. We then get other parents worried that their child likes to spend time alone. That is ok too. We emphasise that it is ok to be by yourself sometimes but not all the time. Everyone needs connection. Of course, the new challenge connection now faces is social media. The entity that was created to connect people is now giving people a lower quality of connection with others. However, if children can tell the difference in calibre of connection between a DM online and playing a game of cards in the park with friends, the danger is contained. Another regular parental fear is children connecting with the wrong people. Going back to one of the earlier blog posts, we make decisions based on our mental health. If a person or group make you feel negative emotions continuously, then we should stay away from them. If they make us feel positive emotions, then they are good for us. And a final guideline on connection. There is something known as the aging paradox, whereby older adults over the age of 65 are better at regulating their emotions despite having less cognitive resources to do so. The biggest predictor of this is quality and NOT QUANTITY of relationships. As people grow older, their quantity of relationships decrease but their quality increases. This is one of the most important messages we can teach children in an age where instagram followers tends to indicate success.
Of course, all of this is a lot easier said than done. Imagine starting a conversation with a stranger on public transport. We immediately assume that they would think you’re a serial killer. While that’s for another blog post, this is where empathy and social skills come in. Everyone brings with them different knowledge and if you see strangers as teachers that hold new information that you can learn, your perspective on approaching strangers is different. And despite what the news says, most people are nice. We’re also not saying you have to start a conversation with everyone. We’re saying that it feels good to connect with people and this is how we maintain good mental health. You don’t have to do it all of the time. But do it sometimes, even if it means getting over those immediate emotions of awkwardness and thoughts that you’ll be rejected.
We will blame everything and anything. “It is tough to meet people in this city”, “nobody likes the same things as me” or “I’m no fun to be around”. There are six billion people in the world but still, so many of us fail to connect. We need to start taking responsibility for our own actions and thoughts and realise that we need to ACT, because Action Changes Things. Anybody can blame their loneliness on other things but the person who can take responsibility, be ready for rejection and act will be the person who will best connect. If you are in a lonely position, you now have the education. The next thing to do is ACT.