If you make one New Year’s Resolution this year, let it be for more meaningful connections.
Is the yearly resolution to lose 20 pounds already looking bleak and you’re just ten days in? That was my story for a long time too. So, for the past few years, I have made loosely structured goals that I would like to happen. I started thinking of them as things I would like to do instead of things that had to happen… or else. One of my goals this year is to spend more time with friends, old and new. To build up my circle for support, and to find joy in being a support to others.
All of the gurus advise making your goals realistic, measurable and clear. Sound advice but I say revel in the fact that this New Year’s resolution is fun. When did making a phone call, meeting up for dinner or going to a social event become such a chore? I wish that I was in the minority here, but more and more evidence says I’m not. Social isolation is a top emerging public health concern, resulting in shorter life expectancies, increased illness and greater healthcare costs (Read more on isolation becoming a health concern, click here).
From a public health perspective, has psychology got it all wrong? Maybe instead of navigating from the assumption that the single individual is the basic unit of psychological analysis we should extend that to the dyad or group. This slant is hardly groundbreaking, evolutionary psychology, group therapy, community-based work, interpersonal psychology and that little field called sociology have long been rooted in this concept. Is there space for understanding the bigger communal picture in our behavioral and physical healthcare system? I think so. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for a radical shift in ‘the system.’ We can simply shift the way that we relate to ourselves and others with reference to our need to be socially supported.
The human brain has evolved over the millennia under the conditions of being embedded in a relatively predictable social group that shares goals, is familiar and interdependent. We are wired to belong and to rely on the safety and nurturance of others. Family, friend, romantic partner, child, acquaintances all serve a protective function against life challenges, adjustments, and illnesses. Things that are inevitable, things that you want to be ready for.
It is not realistic to wake up one day and wipe away all of your loneliness, but you can reduce your isolation. Loneliness and depression though can often overlap. Loneliness is the drive to belong; it is motivational. The tactics to employee here are bountiful. Maybe you call up an old friend, invite someone to coffee, maybe you strike up a conversation with a new group of people (Tips on breaking the ice, click here). There is social media that can connect you not only digitally but a face-to-face person just search the events near you on Facebook or join Meet Up. There’s always the tried and true volunteer opportunities, sports teams, civic organizations, religious gatherings. You have angles and options.
The reality is that there are literally seven billion other people in the world seeking the same sense of belonging, to know that they matter. Maybe the New Year will inspire you to reach out for it a little more.
AUTHOR: Reagon Heikes