Connection is fast becoming a new buzz word in our culture, and I for one am grateful.
Meaningful connection – with each other, with nature, with ourselves – is lacking in our society, and it’s causing immense suffering. Great thinkers, scientists, and studies are all now pointing to a lack of meaningful connection as the root cause of depression and anxiety, of the prevalence of violence and aggression, addiction, and even of the majority of physical ailments and diseases.
We have become a culture of disconnected people seeking connection through inappropriate and ultimately unfulfilling pathways. Shallow and artificial attachments through social media, shopping and consumerism, drugs and alcohol, food, sex, and meaningless work have all taken the place of true connection, leaving us feeling empty and unhappy.
So how do we reestablish meaningful connections? It starts by having real, not virtual (aka via social media and technology) interactions. Here are six simple (though not necessarily easy) ways:
- Smile. This is a good place to start, and is something anyone can try with just a little bit of courage. A simple, genuine smile – at a stranger on the bus, at your child or spouse, at the homeless person you normally avoid at all cost – can be the catalyst for changing someone’s life. Never underestimate the power of a smile.
- Make Eye Contact. Another simple method, but perhaps a little more intimidating for many of us, making eye contact can turn a cold, impersonal interaction into something real. Just a few moments of eye contact is enough in most casual interactions to change the feeling of connection, though maintaining eye contact for longer periods while talking with strangers, friends, and loved ones can create a sense of genuine care and intimacy where there was none.
- Give a Compliment. This is a wonderful idea that greatly enhances new and established connections alike. Your compliments don’t have to be big or profound – just make sure they are genuine and heartfelt. Giving a genuine compliment lets the receiver know they are noticed, and appreciated.
- Be Interested in Another Person. This is one for those of us who have a difficult time with conversations, particularly with strangers. Simply asking questions about the other person, and listening when they answer, is a fantastic way to make someone feel good about themselves, and more likely to drop their own self-consciousness and open up to you.
- Apologize. And Forgive. Admitting fault and delivering a sincere apology is an immensely powerful – and difficult – thing to do. It takes a great deal of courage and vulnerability to say ‘I’m sorry’ without excuses or explanations. In equal measure, accepting an apology and forgiving can be the catalyst for repairing and strengthening your connection with another.
- Practice Vulnerability. Really, each of these techniques requires that you express vulnerability to some degree, but experiment with going further. Where appropriate, share a personal story that demonstrates your human fallibility; admit you don’t know something and ask for help; sing or dance even when you feel self-conscious to do so; ask for a hug; give a hug; be authentic even when you are afraid of being judged for doing so.
When you are vulnerable, you invite others to do the same, and you let them know it’s safe to be themselves. This is the place where true connection exists. By practicing vulnerability in the ways described above, not only will you strengthen your authenticity and connection to yourself, but you’ll encourage authenticity in others, and everyone involved will reap the rich rewards of more meaningful and fulfilling connections.