Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what defines a happy and healthy life. Maybe it’s one made up of a morning routine, workouts you love, and a job that you’re passionate about. Or maybe it’s filled with travel and adventure, the ability to make meals that nourish you, and living in your dream home. I’m fortunate to be able to say that I’ve experienced many of the above, and they’ve all brought joy to my life in one way or another. But when reflecting on when I was truly the happiest and healthiest version of myself, it wasn’t about any of that. Rather, it was when I was spending time with the people I love and who love me—AKA experiencing social connection.
While factors such as exercise and eating balanced meals are still vital to living a healthy and happy life, the healthiest women aren’t healthy because they’re prioritizing a strict schedule of workouts, salads, and supplements. Instead, they’re treating their bodies well, but first and foremost prioritizing a life that includes date nights with their S.O., walks with friends, hosting dinner parties, etc. Read on for why social connection is so essential to happiness, and how to get a daily dose of it yourself.
Why you should prioritize social connection
Researchers define social connection as a core psychological need embedded in our biology and evolutionary history. When we experience social connection, we lower our risk of anxiety and depression, experience greater self-esteem, and have more empathy for others. Positive social relationships can impact our physical health too, lowering inflammation and aiding immune health. One study even showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to our health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.
When we experience intimate social connections, our body releases a hormone called oxytocin (also known as the love hormone). Oxytocin–which the body releases when cuddling, laughing, having sex, talking with a loved one, holding a baby, etc.–can reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels and promote growth and healing. From mental to physical health, prioritizing social connection and human connection is essential to our entire wellbeing.
How to prioritize social connection
1. Say “yes” more often
It’s easy to live in our comfort zones and avoid the things that scare us or opportunities that may be challenging, but when I look at the happiest and healthiest women I know, they are the ones who take chances and say “yes” to change. In one of my favorite books, The Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes chronicles her year of saying “yes” to everything in order to get outside of her comfort zone more, which included giving a commencement speech to spending more time with the people she loves. Try taking an audit of your life and looking into areas where you are currently saying “no,” but could be saying “yes.” Maybe it’s plans with your friends, going to a workout class, eating lunch with colleagues, or visiting your family. If you change your mindset to be more open to opportunities for social connection, it may just lead to greater happiness.
2. Schedule more social outings
Yes, you should allow for ample you-time to recharge alone, but genuine connection with people you love is another important way you should regularly be relieving stress. After a long day at work, maybe the last thing you want to is call to your mom, meet up with a new friend for dinner, or actually talk to your partner over dinner instead of eating on the couch with Netflix playing. While some time alone can be incredibly important, make sure you’re intentional about that alone time, rather than because it’s a habit or in your comfort zone. Scheduling phone calls with loved ones or plans with friends in advance can ensure you keep up with regular social connection.
If scheduling a dinner with friends or family every week still sounds exhausting, I feel you. Scheduling a social outing doesn’t have to be something that involves a large group of friends or costs a lot of money. It can be as simple as going for a walk with your mom, FaceTiming a friend who lives far away, volunteering, joining a group fitness class, or taking a class to improve your skills where you can connect with other people with the same hobbies that you have.
3. Try socializing more at work
Hate to break it to you, but we spend most of our lives at work. Sometimes we see our colleagues more often than we do our friends and family. That’s why the happiest women are doing everything they can to make their jobs more fulfilling, including forming genuine connections with the people they work with. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve shied away from making friendships at work. I’ve too often been the girl with her head down at her computer, avoiding the awkward water cooler chitchat. But when I moved positions in my company a couple of years ago, I looked at it as a fresh start, a chance to socialize more with coworkers, and as a manager, set an example of what a team environment could look like.
It turns out, socializing with co-workers makes going to work ten times more enjoyable (surprise, surprise). Making connections at work doesn’t have to just be amongst your team or during lunch. It can also be done through company events or by seeking out those who have similar interests (i.e. try starting a book club, fitness club, or after-work happy hour). If you prefer keeping your social life and work life separate, simply giving a compliment to or checking in with a colleague can go a long way. Self-employed and work by yourself? Networking with other people in your industry can not only provide more work opportunities, but help you feel a little bit of human connection every time you catch up with them them at an event, reach out to ask for advice, or bounce ideas off of each other.
4. Sign up for group activities
While prioritizing social connections is vital for our health, forcing social connections definitely isn’t. If you’re struggling to connect with the people in your life, expanding your social circle may be the key to becoming happier. And signing up for group activities is an easy way to meet new people in a natural environment. If you love to cook, sign up for a cooking class. If you love animals, volunteer at an animal shelter. If you love fitness, sign up for a workout class. There are so many group activities out there for any interest, and by joining a group with people who have similar passions, you’ll be well on your way to forming new connections.
5. Get outside
It may seem simple, but half the battle of being more social is getting outside your home. The happiest and healthiest women make a consistent effort to foster connections, whether it’s chatting it up with the baristas at their local coffee shop or getting to know their neighbors when taking the dog for a walk. If we’re open to it, social connections can be made anywhere. While it may feel uncomfortable or awkward at times to make new ones, putting yourself in situations where they are possible means you’re already halfway there. So the next time you see the opportunity to start a conversation at the dog park or while sitting next to someone in a coffee shop, don’t pass it up.
Source: Cosmo Politian