Did you know that our brains are designed to connect socially?
Brain researchers are discovering how much our brains have evolved to thrive on social connections. For those of you who had close loving relationships growing up, this might seem obvious. For others who grew up without close and loving relationships, this is foreign territory. For most of my life, I have struggled with loneliness and depression. Even though I know intellectually that I need people, sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to reach out when I’m feeling lonely or depressed.
The article didn’t address this, but I suspect, for those of us who didn’t have strong social connections growing up, we have fewer connections in our brains, resulting in a lower foundation for emotional health and happiness. Positive psychology calls this our set point. Science seems to demonstrate that we can change and create new patterns that help us thrive, though some of us start with a lower set point. Here is a related article discussing the set point theory.
Mathew Lieberman is a social neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles who wrote a book called Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. The book outlines neurological evidence for the importance of social connections in our lives and some guidelines for how to improve our workplaces, schools, and personal well-being.
Since I didn’t learn or develop strong social connections growing up, I’ve had to learn to connect and reach out, one step, one person at a time, often falling down emotionally, to eventually pick myself up. Reaching out when I’m feeling down is still very hard to do. Sometimes a friend offers a kind word, act of kindness or a simple hug that can help lift me up or change my day. As an introvert, I actually enjoy and recharge in solitude, but I also enjoy and need social connections. The trick is knowing when to reach out and when to turn within.
Eric Tonningsen, in a recent post about big and small impacts, suggests we call a friend. Receiving a call from someone with no self-interest is definitely a treat in our busy world where most calls have a business or personal request attached. Nowadays, few people call simply to say hello and check in with their friends.
What are you doing to offer love, kindness or connection in the world?
Let’s connect those neurons and hearts to create a better world for all.