Show Up for Someone Today: The Amazing Power of Social Connection
My High School Reunion
I graduated from high school over fifty years ago in 1969. There were seventeen of us in my class. It was so small because we all went to a seminary and thought we might want to become priests. Four of us became priests, including me, and two are still priests. Two of my classmates died in the ensuing fifty years, and all of our lives took different paths. Mine was so dramatic that I wrote a book about it, Stumbling into Happiness. Since our aging biological clocks were running out of time, we planned a reunion in January that included our wives. Some classmates had to drive as far away as Atlanta and Pittsburg for our “sleepover” in Columbus.
On a cold Saturday afternoon, Mary and I arrived early to the reunion site, the Trattoria Figlia in the Grandview area of Columbus. I had butterflies. The thought of meeting up with guys I hadn’t seen in fifty years and their wives added up to a lot of thought fodder for my anxiety machine. Mary and I walked into the trattoria and told the young receptionist we were here for a party. She lead us through the restaurant, down a long corridor past the kitchen, into another hallway, then showed us into a room filled with people laughing and talking. As soon as a classmate caught sight of me, he shouted, “Shane's here!”
People surrounded us, shaking our hands, hugging us, and introducing their wives. That was 5:30 PM. We talked and laughed throughout the meal until 10:00 PM. Then went back to a cozy part of the Marriott lobby where wine and beer somehow appeared, and the talking and connecting continued until 1:00 AM. Mary and I came down the next morning at 9:00, where we met everyone for breakfast and talked until 11:00. No one wanted to leave.
I reconnected with eight classmates I hadn’t seen in decades and met their eight wonderful wives. The reunion quadrupled my number of friends. As we drove home that Sunday morning, Mary and I didn't feel exhausted. We felt exhilarated by the experience. And received invitations for visits in Columbus, Cleveland, Pittsburg, and Atlanta.
Connection: Key to Well Being
We are hard-wired to connect to people. Without these deep ties, we become lonely and troubled. Why are connections so essential to well-being? I am not talking about Facebook friends, texting friends, or Instagram friends. I am talking about face-to-face, person-to-person encounters without the aid of electronic devices. We are losing our ability to have conversations, and we are suffering for it.
Missing out on social connections, we are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. Lack of connection may also be as dangerous to our health as smoking and high blood pressure! (Science) Eat whole foods and exercise, yes, but don't forget to connect. We underestimate how powerful a conversation is, and how necessary connections are for our well-being.
Reach Out To Someone: Priceless
The most surprising thing about that reunion was how deeply we appreciated that each couple showed up for all of us, some coming from great distances. That priceless gift none of us will soon forget. Now plans are underway for the next get together.
Our social interactions soothe our fears, touch our hearts, and calm our minds. Children suffer from the isolation and disconnection of parents and caregivers who are more focused on their phones than on taking twenty minutes to play, to talk, or to listen. We don't realize how much suffering is caused by our disconnection.
As I reach out and connect with my children, family, and friends or engage in some community activity, everyone benefits. Social connection is like the compound interest I get at the bank, a little investment grows into wealth. A small investment in connecting with our children and others grows into well-being not measured in dollars and cents but in optimism, joy, and peace.
By now, you understand how important social connection is for yourself. Why not take the initiative and give someone important to you this priceless gift?
Today, right now–
Call someone (don't text or email or Facebook message them) speak to them.
Write a letter and send it snail mail–what a surprise your lucky recipient will have.
Ask your child to tell you a story about something that happened that day, then ask them to tell you more.
Let your tween or teen know you love them and how much you would like to hear about their music, their day, and their friends. Then listen without judgment and resist the impulse to lecture them. Just say, “that’s interesting. Tell me more.”
Take your family out to eat–BUT NO PHONES ALLOWED.
Reach out to your adult children, older parents.
Stop and talk to a neighbor or coworker for a few minutes.
Say “yes” to an invitation.
The Need to Belong
We may think we want money, power, fame, beauty, or a new car. But at the root of most of these desires is a need to belong, to be accepted, to connect with others, to be loved. We pride ourselves on our independence, on pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, having a successful career, and above all, not depending on anyone. Social connection is so much more important.
We have dozens of opportunities every day to "show up" for someone. Things that may seem insignificant and of no great importance are often the event remembered and most cherished. No one will remember years from now that I missed a meeting. My child will remember I wasn’t there for her recital. We are not asked to do mighty deeds, but only the small things that show up for us every day, the little connections that make the most significant difference.
Loneliness: Perceived Social Isolation Is Public Enemy No. 1, Christopher Bergland, Psychology Today 2015
Connect To Thrive: Social connection improves health, well-being, and longevity. Emma Seppälä Ph.D. Psychology Today 2012