Oh, those New Year's resolutions.
Lose the weight. Ditch the carbs. Hit the gym.
These are all great, but there’s something else that you need to start prioritizing. Something just as important as those reps you’re sweating through as your trainer screams ”five more, you can do it!” Something that might be even more valuable than consuming those heart-healthy omega 3s and leafy greens.
It’s called connection. And researchers everywhere are telling us that it’s a must-have.
According to Dr. Emma Seppälä, Science Director at the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research Education, studies have shown that social connection is “one of our fundamental human needs,” and the absence of it can be worse for your overall health than obesity or smoking. On the other hand, Dr. Seppälä says that people with strong social connections live longer, have lower levels of anxiety and depression, have greater self-esteem and empathy, and are more “trusting and cooperative.”
Dr. Brené Brown—an esteemed research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work—has written extensively about the importance of social connection and its impact on our physical well-being. In her popular book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she defines connection in part as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued,” and she concludes that “we need connection to thrive emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually.” She also cites compelling research that shows a direct relationship between our connectedness and brain function.
Research is clear: we need connection. But when life happens, it can be hard to stay connected. As a forty-something mother of three who has been through divorce and the death of both of my parents, I’ve lost touch with so many things. Myself. My family. My friends. My career. At times, even my faith. When this happens, I do what I can on my own. I pray. I exercise. I try to eat healthy things. I read scripture. But a fit mind and body seem to offer no real value without a way to use them. In order to live fulfilling lives, we must learn ways to defeat the sometimes-isolating effects of living. We must find ways to stay connected.
So how do we do this when life can seem so disconnecting? When seasons change, marriages crumble, friendships fade, children grow up, identities get lost, and mortality rears its ugly head? By reading this blog post, you’ve taken a good first step. As Dr. Seppälä reminds us, the benefits of connection don’t always have to come from external relationships with others. She says that connection is actually “internal,” and “if you “feel connected to others on the inside,” then you will benefit in the same way.
That being said, we shouldn’t underestimate the value of face-to-face connection, which Dr. Brown suggests is very important. She warns that technology can actually become an “imposter for connection,” and that “just because we’re plugged in… doesn’t mean we feel seen and heard.”
Even though technology isn't a proper substitute for in-person contact, it's still a good way to begin. So I’ve launched a new website called Courageous & Connected, where I’ll explore and write about real-life ways that we can stay connected—with our friends, our spouses, our kids, our families, our faith, and our communities—even ourselves. I’ll feature material that is intended to bring us together internally through words, as well as suggestions and opportunities that can hopefully create more face-to-face interaction among us.
For now, friends, remember this as your research-based prescription to stay fit in the new year: eat right, exercise, make good lifestyle choices, and do things that help you stay connected. Follow my site for more!