Last week Dane and I took some time off in Rarotonga, and for me vacations are the perfect recipe to not only rest and recharge, but to see how other people live – their values, rituals, beliefs, behaviours… it gives us an opportunity to switch up our perspectives and reflect on our own lifestyle.
On the Sunday we were there, I watched as family after family gathered at each other’s houses/community halls/cafes, simply to spend time with one another. The energy was contagious, and what was even more inspiring, is that they commit to this every week.
This got me thinking. How often do we do this in our own lives? How often do we prioritise and intentionally plan regular catch ups with our family, friends, or our wider community? Gone are the days of the long lunches with 20 of your extended family members sitting round the table gas-bagging and eating for 4 hours straight. Gone are the community organised dances that our parents religiously went to every Saturday night as teens. Even birthday parties seem to be an act of the past.
It feels as though we’ve moved away from engaging with social networks that once were integral to the functioning and wellbeing of society, and opting to live a more isolated life.
I fall into this trap too. Most of us are juggling more responsibilities than before, both at home and at work, we live overseas away from our families and friends, and the stressors we face every day can be down-right exhausting. In these times, it seems easier to call off social engagements, or that it’s more beneficial to our mental health if we spend time on our own.
And that’s where the problem lies. We choose to be the lone wolf, when in reality the strength lies in the pack.
Studies show that social connections, and spending time with others, dramatically increases our levels of happiness, self-esteem, and wellbeing. In fact, social isolation increases mortality risk by 32%, which is on par with the mortality risk associated with obesity, or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Therefore, whilst self-reflection and taking time out for ourselves is essential to our health, it’s just as important to invest time in our relationships with others.
So this week I invite you to consider your social connections. What role do they currently play in your life? What emphasis do you place on your relationships? In what ways could you bring more social connections into your life?
To help kick start your thinking, consider the following:
Strengthen the relationships you already have.
It isn’t the number of relationships that increases happiness, it’s about having meaningful ones. Reflect on who is important to you in your life, and schedule in regular catch ups. This could be a monthly dinner, a weekly coffee catch-up during your lunch break, or a home-movie night with your bestie. Make it a non-negotiable event that you all commit to and block out in your calendar.
When it comes to your partners what are some ways you can deepen your connection throughout the week e.g. have a technology free night, a weekend date day, time each day to check in with each other.
Get involved in your community.
Social connection and sense of purpose comes from being part of something outside or yourself. What hobbies or interests do you have that could feed into a community group or cause? What community events do you see happening in your area that you could you get involved in?
Prioritise face-face over online.
The internet and digital technologies are powerful tools for connecting us to the rest of the world, however there is no substitute for physically being around others. If possible, how could you create opportunities to engage with people face-face rather than online e.g. instead of doing your shopping online go to the actual store, instead of organising skype meetings hold it in a local café.
Have a great week connecting with one another, and let me know how you go.