When we get caught up in our own lives, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the people around us.
We can get so busy at work that we don’t make time for our partners at home, or so rushed to put dinner on the table that we don’t even look the grocery store cashier in the eyes. When life gets busy, we’re wired to narrow our focus to just ourselves.
But taking time to connect with others—amidst the busyness—is actually vital to our sense of happiness and meaning.
The Power of Connection
Connecting with others is a core basic need for our happiness. As Elizabeth Hopper, Ph.D., explains in Greater Good Magazine, psychologists often separate well-being into two different categories: hedonic well-being and eudaimonic well-being. Hedonic well-being is a sense of happiness, whereas eudaimonic well-being is a sense of meaning and purpose. And research shows that high-quality relationships are key to living a meaningful life.
“Rather than ruminating on what makes our life worthwhile as we work toward burnout, we can find the answer outside ourselves, in human connection,” Hopper writes.
Studies also show that comforting others—and helping them through their experiences—can help us learn to better navigate our own stressful situations, which can overall improve our own emotional well-being.
Comforting others can help us learn to better navigate our own stressful situations.
Finally, hearing stories from others’ experiences—real or fictional—can also make us more empathetic and challenge the way we look at things. In a study from Basic and Applied Social Psychology, researchers looked at how reading narrative fiction affected a reader’s perceptions of “others” (whether that’s a person of a different religion, race, etc.). The study found that people developed more empathy toward others after reading stories about them, which can lead to even deeper connections.
The benefits of taking time to connect with others are clear, but it’s easier said than done. When you have a to-do list that feels 100 miles long, taking time to talk to a cashier might be the last thing you want to do.
But if you make connection a habit, it can become a part of your daily routine rather than a chore. Here are a few easy ways you can weave more moments of connection into your day-to-day:
1. Listen to your friend vent.
Inviting a friend to coffee and letting them talk about themselves will not only score you major brownie points, but it will also give you a chance to learn from their experiences. Sometimes, it’s those closest to us who are dealing with the same things we are, and they can offer a new perspective.
To be a good listener, Mark Goulston, an author and business psychiatrist, explains in the Harvard Business Review that you should ask specific questions to help direct your friend’s emotions. Try asking questions like, “What are you most angry/frustrated/etc. about?” “Don’t take issue with them or get into a debate,” Goulston explains. “Just know that they really need to get this off their chest—and if you listen without interrupting them, while also inviting them to say even more, they will.”
2. Talk to someone new.
While bugging that person with their eyes closed and headphones in on the subway might not be the best idea, you never know what you might learn from chatting with the person sitting next to you on an airplane or bus stop bench.
A recent study showed that participants who were told to talk to strangers on the bus or train had a more positive experience than those who didn’t. “Human beings are social animals,” the study’s abstract reminds us.
Challenge yourself to strike up a conversation with one new person each week—and see what happens.
3. Read fiction and watch movies.
Who knew that cozying up with a blanket and spending the evening with a book or blockbuster could be good for your health? Movies and fiction are great places to find stories that we can relate to.
Better yet, pick up a book that features a main character that is different from you. That way, you can broaden your understanding of someone you might never come into daily contact with otherwise.
4. Listen to podcasts.
Just like reading fiction and watching movies, listening to podcasts gives us insight into others’ experiences. Podcasts also feature nonfiction stories and are great for listening to on the go.
From listening to a new podcast to striking up a convo with your barista to calling a friend on your walk home, there are lots of ways to bring new perspectives and connection into your daily life. Find whatever form of connection feels comfortable—and doable—for you, and start soaking in other stories. When you start listening to others with an open mind, you’ll be surprised how much you can learn about yourself.