by Andrea Pacini
August 18, 2019
Studies have proven that human connection can exponentially increase happiness and contentment. In these fast times, technology can act as a double-edged sword; one one hand, someone is always a scroll or a click away, on the other - our screens can easily act as a barrier to interaction with the other human beings we are sharing space with.
When I was studying Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, one of our weekly assignments was to strike up a conversation with someone we normally wouldn't - someone sitting close to us on the train or the bus, a clerk, server or cashier etc. I decided to practice this one day while waiting for my oil to be changed and ended up having a lovely conversation with an older woman who was also waiting for her car to be serviced. I learned so much about her life and experiences, her grandchildren, the ways she had seen the world change in her lifetime - it was a truly beautiful moment of connection and shared perspectives.
The memory of this experience stuck with me - (I suspect this is what our professor hypothesized would happen,) and I try to practice it daily in my interactions at banks, restaurants, grocery stores and shops. One cashier shared with me that so many people are on their phone now at check-out that it's rare for people to acknowledge him or even make eye contact.
I understand that talking to someone you normally wouldn't can be way outside of your comfort zone, and can even possibly be dangerous depending on circumstances. Listen to your intuition and allow yourself to be guided to practice this exercise in a way that makes smart, safe sense for you. If this is just not in the cards for you at this time, there are plenty of ways to take part in this practice while still feeling secure and protected.
Call a friend or family member. Texting is easier and let's face it, it's the preferred method of communication for most people, me included - ain't nobody got time for phone calls! But isn't there just something wonderful about hearing someone's voice? I had a very rare phone conversation with a family member last month and I could feel my heartspace expand as we talked. Hearing the excitement and engagement in his voice lifted my spirits and kept me smiling for a week afterwards. A phone call is extra meaningful in our instant gratification lol, brb, idk society. Taking time out of your busy schedules to listen, share, be present and connect can do wonders for the soul. The benefits that can come from taking just 10 minutes out of your week to make this call to someone - especially someone who may be lonely or isolated, can be more far-reaching than you can possibly know.
Schedule a coffee, breakfast, lunch or dinner date. Finding an hour or two to spend with a good friend, a parent, a sibling or a child can be challenging, especially with school and work schedules, practices, homework, doctor's appointments and meetings, but it's so worth it.
Make eye contact and ask the server, cashier or clerk how they are doing. Putting the phone down, making eye contact, saying please and thank you and maybe even asking how someone's day is going are easy things that only take a few moments, but can really make someone feel seen, and in turn, a lot happier and more appreciated. Take advantage of these precious opportunities for connection and see if and how it affects the interactions you have or your own feelings of personal happiness.
Smile. This simple act of kindness can go a long way - just ask anyone who has ever had a stranger smile at them. Smiling is an easy, noncommittal way of acknowledging someone else's light - even if just in passing.
Practice Active Listening. In one trauma-informed yoga outreach training I attended, we had to partner up with someone we had just met the night before. We were then to sit across from each other and talk uninterrupted for 7 minutes while the other person just listened with no comments or interjections. At first, of course we all balked - what could we possibly talk to a stranger about for 7 minutes uninterrupted?! We were so uncomfortable and unnerved by this daunting task - sitting across from someone I barely know, making eye contact, talking about what exactly? And for 7 minutes?! That is an eternity. How is this going to ever work? Well, the 7 minutes passed easily and quickly and we were all shocked by how much we chose to reveal when given the space to just be heard. It was a truly extraordinary practice! While on that phone call or at the lunch date with a friend, try practicing active listening - just sit back, don't worry or think about your replies, just let the other person talk and truly hear what they are saying. I love this practice because I believe it allows me to communicate more authentically and be a better friend, mom, wife, sister and daughter.
This week, as you mindfully practice the art of connection, take a mental inventory of how this practice influences your own feelings of happiness and fulfillment.
What are your favorite ways of connecting with others in your life? Have you ever practiced active listening? What was your experience?
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