In today’s world, we’re more connected than ever — at least in one way. We now have the ability to interact with people all over the globe with the click of a button. Social media apps like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have made communication and connection feel ever-present. So why, as all the latest research shows, are we lonelier than ever?
This crisis has reached such a peak that experts say we’re in the midst of a global “epidemic of loneliness.” The surface-level connection we feel when someone hearts, likes or comments on our latest profile picture might give us a quick boost, but it’s not what we really need. And it’s diminishing the true and deep connection we feel with people who actually know and love us. When we do make time for face-to-face interactions, they are often diminished by the constant presence of technology.
Even when we’re not using our phones, their mere presence is a problem, as Sherry Turkle, a professor and researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote in the New York Times. When there’s a phone on the table, she notes, “People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.” That same principle applies during work meetings, where it’s more common than not to see people checking their devices.
But a wealth of research tells us that building strong relationships in all aspects of life is essential — not only to our health and happiness, but to our mental outlook and our work performance as well. Real connections help to keep our stress levels in check and our minds engaged in our work. It makes us more collaborative and more creative. Knowing this is only part of the equation, though, which is why it’s helpful to get expert advice and solutions so you can reconnect with the people who matter most to you and forge new connections along the way.
Welcome to The Thrive Guide to Connecting With Others
Thrive Global is a behavior change platform focused on lowering stress and increasing well-being and productivity. The company, founded by Arianna Huffington, creates lasting change in people’s lives by giving them sustainable, science-backed solutions to enhance their performance and overall well-being.
This Thrive Guide will show you how to create stronger connections with the people in your life, from friends and family to colleagues, based on the science showing that meaningful social relationships are essential to our well-being.
Focusing on your social connections isn’t as time-intensive as it may seem, though it does take effort. That’s where our Microsteps come in—small, science-backed changes that you can immediately incorporate into your daily life with a big impact. They provide practical ways to incorporate more connection into each day.
Our Guides also highlight New Role Models—business and thought leaders we can look to for inspiration on how improving our relationships can fuel our success. Richard Branson, for example, told Thrive that spending time with his family in the morning “puts me in a great mind frame for the rest of the day.” Meanwhile Microsoft’s first Chief Experience Officer, Julie Larson-Green, told Thrive, “Outside of work, spending time with my family and friends helps me recharge.”
Even though technology is one of the reasons that we need to refocus on our social connections, there are ways it can also support our relationships. In our Tech to Thrive section, we’ll show you the apps and services that can help you strengthen your relationships both online and offline.
We all need to prioritize the people in our lives, and if you oversee employees, it’s critical to help them on their journey. The Managerial Take-aways section offers advice for managers who want to lead by example and help their direct reports build stronger connections in their lives.
Life Is Better With People By Your Side
We all know that humans are social creatures who fare better with a network of people surrounding them, but understanding the research showing how social connections enhance our lives can help motivate you to work on your own relationships and encourage others to do the same.
People with strong social ties are likely to live longer than those with limited connections, according to research published in PLOS Medicine. And they also tend to be happier than people who aren’t as social, suggests one study conducted by noted positive psychologist Martin Seligman.
When work and life stresses rise, having the support of a network can boost your resilience and help you manage what’s on your plate. In an International Journal of Mental Health Systems study, researchers found that highly-stressed college students were less likely to suffer from depression if they had strong social support, compared to stressed students with little social support.
And it’s surprisingly easy to strengthen your connections. Strategies as simple as making eye contact and focusing on meaningful conversations over small-talk have been shown to make people feel more connected and improve their well-being.
If you’re like most office workers, you spend a significant amount of time with your fellow employees. To reap the benefits of those connections, think of your colleagues as allies, not as competition or distractions. A 2016 analysis in Personality and Social Psychology Review found that “people who feel more camaraderie with their colleagues, and more connection to the company itself, have better health and happiness and are less likely to burn out.”
A Gallup poll found that having close friendships in the workplace increases employee satisfaction by 50 percent and people with a best friend in the office are seven times more likely to feel fully engaged in their work. You can boost those benefits by being fully engaged in your conversations at work instead of half-paying attention as you also scroll through your phone.
Lastly, show your appreciation for the people you work with. Expressing gratitude at work—for example, to a team member whose contributions often go unnoticed—makes your entire team more willing to help one another, research suggests. And a 2012 study in Psychological Science shows that giving your time to a worthy cause, like helping a colleague or volunteering with a local charity as a group, can actually make you feel as though you have more time at your disposal. (And doesn’t that sound great?)
Now that you know the science, let’s put it into action.
Commit to Making Changes Now
Building strong relationships will lead to improvements in every area of your life. And you can start by implementing Thrive’s microsteps.
Spend time on someone else, even if you’re busy.
Helping, listening, or simply being present for someone else can benefit both you and whoever you’re helping. Research shows that when we spend time on others, our sense of our own time actually expands.
During your day make a personal connection with people you’d normally pass by and take for granted.
It might be the checkout clerk, the cleaning crew at your office or your hotel, or the barista in the coffee shop. See how this helps you feel more alive and reconnected to the moment and to yourself.
For your next one-on-one, suggest a walking meeting.
Instead of meeting in a stale conference room, walk side by side with a colleague. You’ll be less likely to peek at your devices, and the movement will get the creative, problem-solving juices flowing.
The more you connect with those around you, the more you’ll see that doing so is essential to your well-being. Your life will change for the better both at work and at home.