For centuries, philosophers and scientists have attempted to answer the question of why we're here. Some have claimed that good health or growth is our purpose, while others see it as a divine blessing or a means of passing on our genes. Yet, no matter the answer, one thing is certain: we're meant to connect with each other.
It's part of our nature to build relationships. From a young age, children naturally form bonds with their parents and caregivers—and this pattern continues throughout our lives. We constantly seek companionship and support as we go through life's stages together.
But some of us get the short end of the stick regarding relationship satisfaction. In fact, millions of people in the U.S. experience chronic loneliness, which is strongly associated with lower self-reported physical health, mental health, and quality of life. It is also related to higher rates of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and suicide ideation. For many others, feelings of social isolation come up temporarily but often enough to cause an emotional reaction.
Making healthy connections goes beyond simply avoiding feelings of loneliness and isolation. Our relationships impact all dimensions of our well-being, including physical and mental health and our ability to flourish at work and in every other facet of life.
The Benefits of Interpersonal Connection
Because social connection is so hard-wired into human behavior, it makes sense that our relationships (or lack thereof) significantly influence our well-being. Connections can be just as important to physical and mental health as exercise and healthy eating. Research has shown that the psychological and physical health benefits of social contact are so great that they can even outweigh the harmful effects of other risk factors and boost life expectancy.
Our relationships can also act as a buffer in difficult times. When things get tough, it helps to have the support of people who care about us – or at least know us enough to listen and empathize. When we focus on cultivating deeper connections (including those with people whose opinions differ from our own), we are better able to recognize and accept our similarities and differences (there will always be both), which fosters empathy and self-awareness. These connections also expose us to new ideas and perspectives and help us be more authentic as we end our reliance on others to tell us who we are.
Our sphere of connectivity also extends to our work lives. At the organizational level—a connected workforce is a stronger one. Healthy work relationships facilitate greater learning and knowledge sharing, improve retention and engagement, and increase innovation and performance.
On an individual level, people who have a sense of belonging at work may be more likely to thrive in their jobs than those who are treated as cogs in a larger machine. This can have a lot to do with organizational culture. However, in many cases, it’s our attitude toward workplace connections and our hesitancy or willingness to put effort toward cultivating them that can greatly influence our sense of belonging.
Modern Connectivity Obstacles and Pitfalls
Unfortunately, it’s easy to undervalue the role that relationships play in our lives and on our wellbeing.
So much of modern-day “connectivity” is less concerned with making genuine connections and more about being seen as part of a tribe—more often than not, one whose members know very little about one another on a personal level.
In addition, the pursuit of money, influence, and recognition has become the modern-day version of a status symbol. And we don’t realize that in striving for these things, it’s all too easy to prioritize these symbols of success over our most crucial relationship ingredient: people.
When it comes to other people, it’s easy in our modern world to prioritize image over substance—focusing on one’s identity over getting to know the real person. This prevents us from potentially connecting with people with whom we can build genuine relationships. Our current loneliness epidemic highlights this and similar social issues as so many people find themselves with access to millions of people yet feel more distant from others than ever before.
The good news is—there is increasing awareness of the impact our relationships have on us, prompting many to re-examine their priorities, seek more genuine connections, and take more time to appreciate the relationships they’ve already formed.
Where to Find More Opportunities to Connect with Others
Our everyday environments provide numerous opportunities to connect with others. If you feel disconnected, consider where you might focus on creating more personal bonds.
- Social circles/friends
- Work relationships
- Skill-building/self-development environments
- Hobbies/interest-based environments
- Church/spiritual communities
How to Get More From Your Connections
Below are some simple tips to help you cultivate stronger, more genuine, supportive connections and the interactions that build them.
- Know your values and what you need from your relationships. This will help you determine which connections are worth your time and focus.
- Be proactive. Forming authentic connections with others (no matter the relationship type) often takes time and consistency.
- Reflect on your interactions. Which feel most authentic, generate positive emotions, and are most fulfilling? Engage in those types of interactions more often.
- Be authentic and honest in every interaction. Understand that you don’t always have to be ‘on’ or appear a certain way. Authenticity is the key to genuine connection.
- Recognize that everyone has different connectivity needs. If a relationship never grows beyond ‘acquaintance level’ or just isn’t working, it’s okay. Don’t force it.