Well-connected people with strong social relationships are healthier and happier. Close ties with family and friends provides us with support, self-worth and add meaning to our lives. Networking can help us feel as though we belong to something significant.
So why then, does social media and an age of feeling constantly connected to hundreds of friends, sometimes leave us feeling lonely and isolated?
The Internet era means that we can message friends in real time, see photos of a relative across the globe on Instagram and read your sister’s reaction to her favourite TV programme on Twitter, despite a physical distance between you. But technology doesn’t include the physical contact that benefits our well-being. While social media provides us with a network of social connections which has been shown to decrease mental illness as we get older, it is the quality of the social connections that are important. Humans are social beings, and this involves physical contact such as hugging, and seeing facial expressions face-to-face.
Chris Peterson, one of the founders of positive psychology said “other people matter” but does the count of Facebook ‘friends’ or Twitter ‘followers’ equate to happiness? Take the example of Instagram star Essena O’Neill. The Australian had over 600k Instagram followers and carved her career via the social media site. She posted regular pictures for her followers to comment on. Recently she decided to quit social media and revealed some of the deceit and fakeness attached to her online world. Her social media connections were not friends and the world and career she had built was not making her happy.
Taking action to strengthen our relationships and build meaningful connections is essential for happiness.
Ways in which to work on the quality of your relationships, and not just the quantity include:
- Two-way support – giving and receiving
- Shared activities
- Openly talking about feelings
- Shared experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly
While messaging online, sending a text message or talking over the phone means we can interact easily with friends and family, the quality of the interaction is important and investing in your relationships will help improve your health and wellbeing. Emails are often referred to as ‘single strand’ interactions, while face-to-face relationship involves a more complex interaction and body chemistry. Ways to boost this include a meal or drink with a friend, going to the cinema, shopping or a holiday to visit a friend who lives further away. Building more connections can include joining a networking group for your career, volunteering with a group, a new hobby or taking part in a protest.
According the recent Emotional Needs Audit of the UK, by the Human Givens Institute, 24.1% of people did not feel emotionally connected to others, 34.8% did not feel connected to the wider community. Loneliness can make you unhappy, unhealthy and shorten your life, so take the time to invest in the people that are important to you.