In a study done in 2004, people across the U.S. were asked how many people they felt close enough to to share a personal problem with. The mean answer was two, but the mode-- the greatest number of people-- said zero.
In an age where we’re all so connected all the time, between texts, smartphones, email, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and so on, it’s startling how many people are lacking deep connections with others. In her TEDx- Talk entitled “The Power & Science of Social Connection”, Emma Seppala delves into the power of social connection, and the science behind it.
Seppala doesn’t pull her punches. She says that according to the data, having deep social connections is far more important than society gives it credit for. “When we take care of our health, we often think about going to the gym and eating a proper diet. We don’t think about social connection. But actually, low social connection is worse for us than smoking, than obesity, and than high blood pressure.”
How often do you not share something with someone else because you don’t want to appear too self-interested? Or because you’re afraid they’ll reject you if they know you’re-- gasp-- human? (Clutches pearls.)
Seppala says low social connection propagates loneliness, poor self-confidence, lower immunity, and has even been correlated to higher levels of inflammation in the body. Conversely, rich social connection has been connected to faster recovery from disease, longevity, improved immunity, and better psychological health.
According to Seppala, feelings of social connection have declined in recent decades, as shown by a study done first in 1985, and again in 2004. Fortunately, there is a scientific solution: Compassion. Seppala says that practicing compassion toward yourself and others can not only help foster rich social connections, it has also been linked to greater personal success and achievement. Seppala tells us social connection “has nothing to do with the number of friends you have.” It has to do with sharing and showing compassion, which activates the mirroring tendency in our brains.
Today, try this experiment: choose someone you see often who’s always mired in anger or sadness. Commit to smiling at them every time you see them, and see how long it takes for this one act of kindness to change their life.