There was a study a while back that found that people with more friends lived longer. I think that, especially for women, the connections that we make help us. For the most part, women talk out problems. We work them out and problem solve collaboratively. Gaining insight from women I trust has always been powerful for me, that guidance helps me to focus on what really matters and what is at the core of the problem.
As a social worker, when I am assessing a client, I look at what strengths and resources are available. Connections—family, friends, church, neighbors, coworkers—seem to benefit patients almost universally. Those clients tend to be more resilient and to have a smoother transition out of treatment and recovery. Positive connections with others, those relationships that build us up rather than tear us down, matter in relapse prevention as well. Having someone on which you can rely makes the world a lot less lonely of a place.
When in college, I read a book that described these connections as an “I, Thou” relationship. I’m no philosopher or theologist, but what I took from that description is that when we truly connect with others, we are relating to the God inside of each of us. We are woven together by Him in ways that we may never fully realize, and being “present” in those relationships allows us to connect to His higher calling. Seeing the person, not with our eyes but with our hearts, allows a fuller and deeper experience.
As you continue through the holiday season, be open and willing to connect with others. Below are some ideas to get you started, but don’t let them limit you. Part of the practice of mindfulness is to be in the moment, and if you are, opportunities for connecting to others will find you instead of you having to look for them.
- Look at people in the eye—think about the cashier, waitress, car hop, maid, that homeless person you pass on your way to work. One way to separate ourselves from others, especially people that we may unconsciously think aren’t our equals, is to avoid eye contact. Eye contact isn’t appropriate for every culture, but if it is in your culture, try using it as a way to really see the person with whom you are interacting.
- Avoid a pat response. “How are you doing?” “I’m fine.” I’m not suggesting that you tell the cashier or your co-worker every detail of your day or that you ask about theirs. However, at least being aware of the fact that you are responding in a vague manner, brings you into a state of mindfulness. Are you really fine? Sometimes we become so disconnected from how we really are feeling that we don’t know how to answer any other way.
- When giving a compliment, be specific. “That shirt really brings out your eyes.” “Has anyone ever told you what beautiful hair you have?” “That was so kind of you to let her have the cart first.” Do you see the difference in those and—“nice shirt" “you got your hair cut” and “thanks”?
- Write a letter. I may be old fashioned, but I really believe that people prefer a hand written letter to an email or text message. Write a letter to someone in your family you haven’t seen or heard from in a while.
- When I was getting my masters, I would encounter homeless people from time to time. I had such a struggle with knowing how to help and if giving a few dollars or pocket change really mattered. I remember calling my husband one afternoon in tears about seeing a homeless man digging through the trash in the winter. I went to Wendy’s after that call and picked up some gift cards to keep on hand. I would stash them in my pockets when walking to and from class, and if approached, that would be what I would give. It is so easy to walk away, so easy to believe that they’ll use the money for drugs or alcohol, so easy to believe that it will never be you in their shoes. I’ve got news for you folks, it could be any of us. “There but by the grace of God go I”. Connecting with someone on a human level and understanding that we could easily be where they are allows us to empathize. Empathy may not be a fix, but I’ve got another bit of news for you folks, people don’t want to be fixed. To think that you are going to rescue someone or fix them, separates you further. You are in the hero role, not walking alongside someone in the process.
- Give of yourself. When looking for volunteer opportunities, keep in mind that many times nothing more is needed than having someone available to talk with people. Nursing homes, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, Big Brother Big Sister programs are all in need of people who are willing to be present and listen.
- If you are new to your area or want to meet new people, find a club or organization or take a class. On a fluke one day, I happened to make it to one of the first Holistic Moms Network meetings in Knoxville when our daughter was about 3 or 4 months old. The women that I met in that group have become some of my closest friends. I have learned a tremendous amount from them, and though I’m no longer active in the group, I still regularly see and speak with many of the members.
- People watch. I love to people watch. My husband laughs at me when we are out in public because he knows that I can almost go into a trance watching and listening to others. The next time you are people watching, pick out someone in the crowd. If you are a praying person, make a point to pray for him or her. As you continue throughout your day, reflect on that image and say another prayer each time. If you aren’t a praying person, you might want to send up positive energy or good thoughts their way. Will it help the other person? You’ll never know, but I choose to believe that it will. Will it help you? Most definitely. You are doing something for the good of someone else without any reason or any chance of being repaid—that kind of altruism has been studied and proven to benefit the giver’s mood and physical well being.
- Turn off the machines. Cell phones, text messaging, laptops, Blackberries, TV, and whatever else keeps you from connecting to the people around you—turn them off, even for a little while.