mental health, social connections, group communication

Wired to connect: Up happiness by leaning into your social network

Did you know that social connectedness is a better indicator of adult well-being than class, education level, and wealth? Are you aware of the sheer volume of data that show how incredibly vital social connections and quality relationships are to personal happiness? There’s a lot of data out there. Not only that, but in addition, it is the quality of our relationships that really indicate how fulfilled we feel.

“To the extent that we can characterize evolution as designing our modern brains, this is what our brains were wired for: reaching out to and interacting with others,” writes neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman in his book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. “These social adaptations are central to making us the most successful species on earth.”

Quality vs. quantity: actually both are critical

So, study after study has shown that people who have satisfying relationships are happier, live longer, and have fewer health problems. And evolutionary biology tells us that natural selection has operated to favor humans with a stronger instinct to organize into groups. The social support we get from being connected to our communities provides a cascade of psychological and health benefits to us. Relationships with friends and family are likely closer and more intimate than those we experience with community peers, and so the cohesion of those relationships is critical too.

But it’s not just the quantity of relationships we have or the status of being married or being involved in lots of social activities that matter. It’s also the quality of these connections that make a world of difference in our well-being. Quality relationships are marked by secure attachment, meaning that those friends/couples/family members in secure bonds felt that they could really depend on each other when life got rough. Bickering doesn’t have a negative effect on a relationship when the individuals involved have deep trust and commitment to one another. How do we know?

80 years of data from hundreds of participants tells us:

Loneliness is toxic.

For over 80 years, the Harvard Study of Adult Development has “collected a cornucopia of data on…physical and mental health” of hundreds of people in a longitudinal study that began during the Great Depression. The study eventually came to include the original participant’s wives and offspring, and in the 70’s 456 inner-city Boston residents were added to the study. This has meant that the participants in the study are a very diverse cross-section of the general population.

The study has found that “close relationships ….are what keep people happy throughout their lives, [and that] those ties protect people from life’s discontents and help to delay mental and physical decline.” Director of the study, Robert Waldinger, says, “Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.” He goes onto suggest that good relationships aren’t necessarily ones devoid of conflict. Quality relationships are the ones that are conducive to long-term health and happiness.

If you have time, Waldinger’s TED talk on the study is well worth the 12 min time length:

For happy relationships, look for these elements

Furthermore, we know that quality relationships involve the following elements:

  • Experiencing shared positive emotions like joy
  • Being able to talk openly and feel understood
  • Reciprocity of support (give and take)
  • Bonding experiences, shared activities

What does this mean for you and your group?

So, what do we do with this information and how does it relate to group communication and group management? Great question!  SO glad you asked!!

At Groupeasy, we have some pretty big ideas about how groups can best stay in conversation, in relationship, and in flow- all from a safe distance. That’s where our 9 tools come into play. We provide a practical solution to a specific problem. It’s pretty black and white! Groups need to do A, B, and C really well to stay together and make progress during COVID. We facilitate all of that.

BUT, we recognize that the chemistry and nuance of group process and group leadership require a little more finesse and a willingness to deep dive into the gray area. What is the essence of human connection? How can we facilitate healthy and productive work that we care deeply about when we are so preoccupied by political anxiety and pandemic anxiety? That’s at the core of what we’ll continue to investigate this year. Hopefully it will be one of positive growth for all of us individually and culturally.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll look at nonviolent communication and how to incorporate it with the people you most desire to connect with- be they your family, your friends, or your community partners and peers.

Happy Grouping,

The Team at Groupeasy

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