In Dr. Laurie Santos’ podcast, “The Happiness Lab,” which offers clinical research on what makes us happy and how we can achieve happiness, one particular episode dispels the false notion that seeking solitude leads to more contentment. In this episode, there is an example of a study provided wherein both extroverts and introverts were found to feel more overall joy after having been approached by a stranger for conversation on their train commute despite the introverts’ prediction that they would be better off left alone.
Dr. Laurie Santos also provides other interesting examples of technological advancements that, while making life more convenient and efficient, i.e. the invention of an ATM, have actually robbed humans of many common opportunities for nourishing socialization that used to exist before automation. We certainly don’t need to be reminded of all of the technological advancements that keep us from connecting with other humans, including those with whom we share a living space. Our phones and other gadgets constantly distract us, and even as we consume some beneficial information and new ideas via our devices, we seem to be more disconnected, lonely, and anxious as a society these days. The Internet also exposes us to much negative content, and technology can negatively impact our brains.
Evidence shows that disconnectedness characterizes our current culture; however, I’d rather focus on what we can do to stay connected and more joyful. Here are some suggestions:
1) Minimize usage of your smart phones, and tuck them away on a shelf at the end of the evening in order to connect more deeply with your family members or simply engage in more healthy activities, e.g. reading a book or exercising.
2) Even though it takes up your time, it may be worth it to plan more physical trips to the store or wherever, if only to be around people and engage in social interactions. Not everything you do needs to maximize your time at home, and chances are, if you’re spending too much time in your home, you are likely turning to your devices when you have some empty spaces in your day.
3) Hobbies are enjoyable and rewarding, and they also offer an opportunity to connect with others. Even if you cannot afford to take that pottery or dance class you’ve been wanting to take, there are usually community classes at low cost. At minimum, being outside, perhaps at a park with others walking or exercising, is rejuvenating and more comforting than being home alone. Spiritual or faith based activities can also fall into this category if those are valuable to you.
4) Finally, stay connected with your friends and loved ones. Prioritize phone calls (and visits when you can) with long-distance friends and family because these are memories and opportunities to be reminded of your support system. A 30-minute phone call is more nourishing than 30 minutes of browsing Instagram or Facebook.
Everything I’ve been consuming and personally living continues to emphasize the benefits of human connection and community. This week in my town we had a momentous snow day, but the day ensued with impromptu sledding with our neighbors and ended with having them over for some social connection over drinks and snacks. It was a highly enjoyable evening and a reminder of how good it feels to have a neighborhood community. Any community and connections we can cultivate will keep us happier and more fulfilled.