As humans, we long to make connections. How well we do that may be linked to our happiness.
Neurologically, psychologically, emotionally and socially, we need to make connections. Making connections is part of the human experience.
Why do we long to make connections?
Because connections help us determine meaning. We need meaning because the mind can’t stand confusion. We’re born alone, we’ll die alone, and we spend the middle part longing and needing to make connections. It’s how we define ourselves. That self-definition is critical because we use our self-definition as a context to define everything else in life that we become aware of.
I recently came across a few things that remind me of this simple, timeless human truth about longing to make a connection.
- Connecting is hardwired into our brain.
Have you ever seen stories or heard urban legends where people have seen the face of Jesus in a waffle, or seen well-known faces in an inanimate object? Even if you’ve never had such an experience, you may have stared up at the clouds as a kid, or with your child, and picked out shapes and faces in the clouds.
There is a scientific name for the phenomenon of recognizing patterns, shapes and familiar objects in random ‘stimuli’. Pareidolia is when our brain tries to make sense of input that may have no sense to find in it. Scientists identify the fusiform gyrus as the area of the brain that activates when people look at faces. The fusiform gyrus kicks in when pareidolia occurs; identifying faces is generally regarded as the most common effect of pareidolia.
- Deep connections (strong relationships) may be the secret to happiness
Sounds like quite a line, doesn’t it? But this is exactly what one of the longer running studies is finding. Now the fourth person to run this 75-year long study, Harvard Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, found that “The happiest and healthiest participants in both groups were the ones who maintained close, intimate relationships.”
Waldinger gave a TedTalk on the findings, which tracked people from young adults to old age:
“People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely,” Waldinger says in his TedTalk. “And good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old.”
Try to embrace our natural human drive to make connections with others. And don’t be tempted to supplant this desire with social media. Spending time with people in person, investing in relationships – with the good the bad and the ugly it can bring – can have a significant impact on our health and our happiness, especially as we age.
Copyright © Joe Caruso and Caruso Leadership, 2017, All rights reserved. Reprints available with permission.