Research shows that introducing a few small things into your everyday life can have a big effect on your emotional health. Simple actions such as giving, connecting, being active, learning and taking notice can make you feel better about yourself and improve your quality of life if they are practised consistently over time. We call this the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’. I’ve come up with some ideas for how you might make connecting with others a part of your routine.
Make eye contact:
Remember the old adage “the eyes are the windows to the soul”? Well it turns out that scientifically speaking that’s not actually far wrong. Researchers at Cornell University found that eye contact can help to create a deep, subconscious sense of connection between people who are communicating. In European cultures people tend to spend between 30-60% of a conversation making eye contact, more when they’re speaking than listening. Making a conscious effort to increase the amount of eye contact you give to a person can have a noticeable positive affect on your relationships and the quality of the connections you make. Deliberately making eye contact forces you to focus more on the other person and they will be able to tell that you are more ‘present’. It might feel a bit awkward at first, and be aware that some people might even find it a bit uncomfortable… but over time you’ll find that you’re having better, more real conversations and feeling connected to the people around you. Try it out!
Why does the idea of someone lying to us make us so uncomfortable? Does it make us feel silly, embarrassed, afraid? Relationships are built on trust, and one of the most basic trusts that we put in each other is that people mean the things that they say to us. And yet, most of us put significant effort into masking the truth from ourselves and others quite a lot of the time. In conversation we tend to be pretty comfortable with talking about the good things but when things get tough you might notice the smoke and mirrors creeping in. If we were to tell the truth, people would know that our lives weren’t perfect. But actually, something pretty powerful happens when we are honest about our disappointments and discontents: we find out that nobody’s life is perfect. Honesty can smash the glass walls between us and we can start to really relate and connect to each other. We begin to know that the other person accepts us as we are, and from there we build real relationships. Of course, practice caution and keep yourself safe regarding the things you share and who you share them with, but introducing that new level of trust into the relationships in your life can be a great way to strengthen those connections.
Life is stressful, there is no doubt about it. If it’s not work, it’s the house, the car, the dog, the parents, the friends, the holiday, the finances. Sometimes we’ve got so much in our head that we can be talking to people and not even really listening to what they (or you!) are saying. However, making that extra effort to really engage with a person can be helpful in reducing that stress. I always think that people are a bit like books in that they are relatively small packages that hold within them a whole world. Sometimes, listening properly to another person, taking a genuine interest in that world, can be a nice break from being immersed in our own reality, just like reading a book. And people will be able to tell that you’re listening and will feel appreciated and valued which in turn makes them more likely to listen to you, and the cycle of connecting continues.
Ask open questions
An open question is one to which a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer would not be enough. They usually start with “how”, “where”, “when” or “what”, and give the person speaking a chance to express themselves a bit more freely in conversation. Following on from what we said about people being like books, imagine that you could ask a character from a book anything… well now you can! Connecting with a person means knowing them better on a deeper level and encouraging them to explore and share what they think about things can be a great way to start this process. Be careful not to come across as interrogatory (avoiding questions starting with “why” can help with this) and make sure to actually listen to their response!
Call, write, talk
You could argue that we’re more ‘connected’ to each other than ever – we’re available pretty much 24/7 through our mobiles and a growing majority of people use social media. But when it comes to being ‘social’, quantity doesn’t always mean quality. Keeping it old school with our communication every now and then can be really powerful: talking on the phone, writing letters or even better, meeting up in person! The more of our senses a communication takes up, the more likely we are to really connect with them, and there’s nothing quite like being together. In our busy lives making time for a really meaningful hour of conversation can be better than a thousand absent minded text messages.
These ideas might only require subtle changes to the way we communicate, but when you’re absolutely stacked out with life stress they can feel like a lot of effort. However, this stuff is solid gold. We’re social animals and as much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we need each other. That’s why we worry so much about what people think of us. Improving the quality rather than the quantity of our connections can do amazing things for our emotional wellbeing and actually help reduce stress, so the effort you put in will pay off. Try it out!