Guest Column

The power of human connection

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We all know that comforting feeling when we are being physically embraced – feeling heard, emotionally understood and supported by another human being. That warm feeling of human connection is so important in maintaining our overall emotional and physical health. In fact, dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer. Conversely, a relative lack of social ties is associated with depression and later-life cognitive decline, as well as with increased mortality and why understanding human connection is so important.

What is Human Connection?

Human connection is an energy exchange between people who are paying attention to one another. It has the power to deepen the moment, inspire change and build trust.

What is Social Connection?

When researchers refer to the concept of “social connection,” they mean the feeling that you belong to a group and generally feel close to other people. Scientific evidence strongly suggests that this is a core psychological need essential to feeling satisfied with your life.

Emma Seppala of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and author of the 2016 book “The Happiness Track,” wrote, “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.

Brene Brown, a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, specializes in social connection, said in an interview that “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don't function as we were meant to.” We may think we want money, power, fame, beauty, eternal youth 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 and to be loved.

What are the Benefits of Social Connections?

Resilience, the ability to bounce back after stressful situations, is strengthened when you give and receive support. Building positive relationships with people can make a difference in how resilient you are. Try to connect with people who have a positive outlook and can make you laugh and help you. The more positive your relationships are, the better you will be able to face life's challenges.

What is Social Isolation?

Social Isolation is a state of complete or near-complete lack of contact between an individual and society. It differs from loneliness, which reflects a temporary lack of contact with other humans.

“Social isolation is far and away the strongest social risk factor out there,” said Steve Cole, a genetics researcher at the University of California Los Angeles.

Loneliness and social isolation take a steep toll on the human body. These, in turn, can undermine the well-being of nearly every bodily system, including the brain. Studies show that people who are chronically lonely have significantly more heart disease, are more vulnerable to metastatic cancer, have an increased risk of stroke and are more likely to develop neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Lonely adults are 25 percent more likely to die prematurely. Elderly people who are lonely die at twice the rate as those who are socially connected. All of which makes the spike in loneliness in American society even more alarming. Researchers estimate that some 60 million Americans — one fifth of the population — suffer from the pain of loneliness. And with millions of baby boomers now facing a radically shrinking social world, the rising tide of loneliness has all the hallmarks of a widespread and costly epidemic.

Why does loneliness ‘feel’ so bad?

For those who doubt, just think of the sting of rejection. A brain imaging study led by Ethan Kross at the University of Michigan suggests that the same parts of the brain are activated during social rejection as during physical pain. Another recent study, led by Shelley Taylor at the University of California Los Angeles suggests that stress due to conflict in relationships leads to increased inflammation levels in the body. Both physically and psychologically, we experience social connection as positive and rejection or loneliness as negative.

According to Matthew Lieberman a professor at UCLA, the importance of social connection is so strong that when we are rejected or experience other social pain, our brains "hurt" in the same way they do when we feel physical pain. "Social and physical pain are more similar than we imagine," Lieberman said. "We don't expect someone with a broken leg to 'just get over it.' Yet when it comes to the pain of social loss, this is a common, and mistaken response." The bottom line: We need to take social pain just as seriously as we do physical pain.

How can we build stronger social connections?

Data indicates that we can increase social connections through practicing compassion for others as well as for ourselves.

Another way to build stronger social connections is to ask yourself what would make you happy in contributing to your community. Focusing on “what you can give to others” is a proven way to feel both better about yourself and more connected to others. Similarly, you can contribute by educating yourself on hobbies or a cause that matters to you. Look for clubs, organizations, regular events, and programs connected with your local community centers, libraries and schools.

Lastly and most importantly: Connecting with Yourself

You must know who you are and have confidence in yourself if you desire to connect with others. If you don’t believe in who you are and where you want to lead, work on that before doing anything else.

Conclusion

In a world full of people, what can be more beautiful than knowing how to form healthy relationships and establish deeper connections with those around us – to feel socially connected, especially in today’s increasingly isolated world. To learn more about the power of human connection, all are invited to attend this free, fun-filled evening as we focus on connecting to ourselves and others. The presentation will be held on Thursday, May 10, 2018 at 7 p.m. at the Long Beach Public Library, located at 111 W. Park Ave., Long Beach.