C is for…CONNECTION
Right now, I am in the process of co-authoring a book titled The One Thing I Want You to Know. Each author has a chapter in which to share their story and wisdom. My chapter is titled You Are Not Alone, and it is about how we thrive when we look to each other, rather than relying on ourselves.
“It is when we are connected to others that we are the fullest expression of what it means to be a human being.”
Connection is what we are made for; it is when we are connected to others that we are the fullest expression of what it means to be a human being. We do not exist alone, for our own ends, but rather, we are here to live our lives together, with and for others. Even as I write this, I hear the echoes of isolation, the insidiousness of loneliness and the fragility of our social communication as a modern society.
According to gov.uk, the statistics on loneliness are stark, and they are not improving. Results from The Community Survey, conducted in April 2021, show that the group most affected were in the age category of 16-24 year olds, of whom, 11% said they felt lonely often/always.
I worry about our ability to connect in the future. We are so often drawn inward, with self-interest, self-concern, and self-sabotage! I am all for a bit of introspection from time to time, it is important to consider who we are, what we want in life and what our purpose is. However, I love reflection more. Looking at the effects of who I am, my life and purpose. Using this as a motivation to change into a fuller person for those around me. I have spoken before about how other care is as important, if not more so, than self-care. And this brings me to the heart of the issue – when we care for ourselves from a place of wanting to be the best for others, that, I believe is true self-care that naturally results in other-care.
"Our need to go the extra mile is evident now more than ever..."
There are other ‘C’s that also work in conjunction with connection – courage, compassion, care, creativity, and community. Our need to go the extra mile is evident now more than ever and its effects on our own individual wellbeing, as well as a collective society, is far reaching. In fact, it is documented that when we show compassion and act with kindness towards others, our brain responds to the positive effects via what is known as the ‘sociometer’ – a function of the brain to scan for threats to our safety and self-esteem. By smiling, engaging in eye contact, and connecting socially, we increase our brain’s ability to feel safe, in control and reduce stress. Our need for belonging as social animals is a part of our internal wiring.
So, in a world that is simultaneously being brought together, and pulled apart through modern technology, feeling the effects of cultural shifts and grieving the waning of tradition and ritual, how can we connect? What is the antidote to loneliness and the pervasive tide of separation? These are big, deep questions and I’m sorry, but I don’t have all the answers.
But I do have a few ideas to offer. You may choose to put one of these into practice today, you may even challenge yourself to do all of them. But know that by connecting with others, reaching out and being fully present sets the tone, is an example and becomes the permission for others to do the same.
In my book Upward: The Power of Looking Up, I share stories on the power of social connection and the importance of togetherness. It is when we look up from our own circumstances, change our perspectives and engage with others and the wider world, that we develop empathy, generosity, forgiveness and hope for the future.
Looking someone in the eye whilst talking with them, even for a brief moment, has been shown in research studies to increase self-esteem and understanding. It aids our ability to communicate effectively and allows for us to translate subtle changes in body language and facial expressions. It also gives value to the person, telling them that you are focussed on what they are saying or doing and ‘you see them’ – to be seen is a powerful component of connection.
The age-old phrase of ‘it takes less muscles to smile than to frown’ is true and the use of these muscles creates a cascade of positive hormones too! Generating positive feelings in our body, especially through our face and letting these be seen and shared with others, has a positive ripple effect.
Ask for Help
When we share in our weakness, we can celebrate with our strengths. By asking for help, you are giving the gift of service to someone. You are allowing them to share their strength to help you in a moment of weakness. This is vital for connection and is the ultimate sign of teamwork. By putting our pride and ego to one side, stepping into our humanity and owning the fact that we do not have to do it all, we can add to others riches through receiving help.
Additionally, when we offer a helping hand, we are able to participate in giving of our abilities, gift, skills, resources and time. These are precious, but in sharing what we have with others we connect and create a society that looks to each other.
Pick Up the Phone
I leave more voice notes now than I ever used to. I love being able to talk with someone, even if it is in leaving a message. The audible sound of a voice is real, visceral and brings us into the moment. It is very difficult to capture nuance and tone in a message that is made of text alone.
Pick Up a Pen
Similarly, seeing the written word in someone’s handwriting is far more personal than a printed typeface. When we are surrounded by text in various forms all day long, from emails, to letters, tweets to news banners, a handwritten card or note provides the human touch we long for.
Time is our greatest gift. If we slow down and savour moments with each other, we make space for memories that will last forever. Living each day to its fullest does not mean cramming it full of more stuff, endless to-do lists and ‘keeping up with the Jones-es’ activities. I personally think that fullness of life is about recognising the importance of our lives, understanding how fleeting they are and responding to our days with meaning and intention.
When we consider time and become intentional with how we spend it, we become present. Without any pun intended, this truly is a gift. When my children want my attention, they are really asking for my connection with them. This may come as a chat over dinner, holding my hand on a walk or simply sitting with them whilst they do their own thing. But my presence is important, and these moments are to be cherished.
And another gift you and you alone can give in terms of connection is by being fully you. There is a wonderful African phrase ‘I am, because we are’. The more you you are, the more me I can be. And so, I need you to be the fullest expression of who you really are, as this, in turn, allows me to be fully me.
What are your thoughts on connection? I’d love to know in the comments below, or on my social feeds - @iamsarahalexcarter Let me know what resonates with you when you think about wellbeing and the letter C. Another great way to connect is by sharing this blog with others. You can also click to subscribe and join me on this journey from A to Z and be the first to receive updates. Let's work, rest & play well this year!