The ability to connect with others has been essential to our survival as a species.
As hunter-gatherers we would not have been able to navigate climatic upheavals, lean months, or stalking predators without the care, support, and nurturance of family and kin.
Today our need for connection may be less apparent but it is no less significant. Everything from the food and water we eat and drink to the medical help and education we receive is provided by other people and, often, from other places.
We reciprocate in the form of our kindness, care, friendship, advice, and the work or vocation we do. Our web of interconnectedness is as strong as it is complex.
Which goes some way towards explaining the buzz we get when we form or deepen our social connections. It’s like our bodies are giving us feedback: this is good, this is helpful.
But why is it helpful? We can all intuitively sense that making connections with others is enjoyable but what – at a deep and evolutionary level – is it about these connections that is so important for our wellbeing?
It boosts our physical health
Research shows that people with more and better social connections tend to have higher life-expectancy. In fact, social isolation can increase the chance of death by 50%.
There are lots of reasons why connection has such an impact. The feeling of safety that can come from connecting with others lowers stress which in turn reduces the likelihood of heart disease and high blood pressure. It can also encourage us to adopt healthy behaviors – we might learn from others about ways to look after bodies or join our friends and family in healthy pursuits and hobbies.
It improves our mental health
Social connection reduces our risk of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. Why? In part because, assuming these connections are generally positive, they provide us with validation, support, and care. When we need to talk things over, having people we can call upon is vital. Connections also give us a sense of purpose: it means that we have other people we can care for and support. Often this is as good for our wellbeing as being the recipient of care.
It increases our empathy for others
Learning about the lives of others – through the connections we have with friends, family, and colleagues – helps to expand our awareness and understanding of the world. This routine flexing of our empathy muscles ensures we can more easily and effectively empathize both with those in our inner circle and those beyond it.
It heightens our resilience
Everyone experiences setbacks but people with strong social connections tend to bounce-back more quickly than those who don’t. This is partly because those connections can be a vital source of emotional support and encouragement and because – especially in cases of ill-health or financial hardship – they may be able to provide practical help.
It improves the wellbeing of society
For all these reasons and more, individual connections become woven together into a stronger, healthier, and happier society. And not only that – there is a growing argument to suggest that a connected society is less likely to fall prey to some of the worrying trends we see afflicting nation-states today. An empathic, mutually supportive, and healthy society is far less likely to succumb to the appeals of authoritarian rule and reactionary politics and much more likely to maintain and grow a culture of democracy and inclusivity.
So help us build a connected society
Connections are good for ourselves, for others, and for society. Which is why the Global Compassion Coalition has recently launched a scheme inviting people to become Compassion Connectors in the places where they live, work, and play. Please join the hundreds who have already registered by clicking here.