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Scenes Over Screens: Building Connection in the Everyday

While we’re more connected technologically than ever in today's world, we’re experiencing profound levels of loneliness which, as Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy has said, is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. He compares the impact of this to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. This sense of loneliness stems from a disconnection from ourselves and others. Psychologists have long emphasized that we discover ourselves through our interactions with others, yet, truly engaging with the world requires moving beyond screens to cultivate genuine connections.

Robert Waldinger, a Harvard researcher and medical doctor, has been leading the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest in-depth study on human happiness ever conducted. This 86-year ongoing study reveals a universal truth: positive relationships are the #1 predictor of well-being and happiness. The study concludes that good relationships not only make us happier and healthier but also contribute to our success, affirming that our network is indeed our net worth. The happiest people are those who cultivate numerous relationships and maintain warm connections with others. 

My book has an entire chapter on how organizations and leaders can create a sense of connection for people in the workplace, but here, let’s look at a few ways we can feel more connected in our daily lives. 

Loose Connections

Loose connections, often referred to as weak ties, play a crucial role in our health and well-being. Unlike close-knit relationships, these casual acquaintances provide diverse perspectives, access to new information, and opportunities for personal growth. By maintaining a variety of social connections, we create a supportive social fabric that contributes significantly to our overall mental and emotional health. Social media platforms are perfect for checking in with people periodically, but in-person experiences are much more impactful. My favorite new community is TechWalk, a weekly one-hour walk through Central Park (and now other locations) that brings together new people to network, share ideas, and connect in a welcoming and healthy setting. I’m obsessed!

Creating Community in Daily Interactions

Like many others, working from home over the past few years has provided me with more time and space in my life. This change has enabled me to truly notice and engage with the people I encounter daily, fostering a deeper sense of community. For example, during the pandemic, I started connecting with traffic officers I regularly passed on my daily walks. What began as simple gestures like waving or nodding gradually evolved into conversations. Similarly, as a frequent patron of my favorite lunch spots, coffee shops, and other local businesses, I formed bonds with the employees. I would ask about their lives and occasionally bring flowers to brighten their days. These gestures led to heartfelt exchanges, such as receiving goodbye cards when they moved on to new jobs. These seemingly small interactions have profoundly enriched my sense of presence and community.

Unexpected Connections

In a recent episode of the Mel Robbins podcast, she does a Master Class on the power of forging unexpected connections and how to make friends as an adult. She asks us to consider the countless people who cross our path each day, who hold untapped potential for meaningful connections. Picture yourself at a café, realizing that a potential friend or business partner might be sitting nearby, or consider that the person next to you at the gym could become a significant part of your life through a chance conversation. Embracing the power of unexpected connections shifts your perspective, allowing you to navigate life with a sense of curiosity and openness to the possibilities each day brings. This mindset unlocks serendipity and increases what Sahil Bloom calls our luck surface area.

The beauty of this is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it, but it's more a way of being in the world. So, how can you start creating these connections without feeling awkward or intrusive? Here are some quick tips:

  • Compliment people: Compliments are a great way to acknowledge someone's individuality. Whether it's their outfit, hairstyle, or their dog, a sincere compliment can break the ice. On the flip side, try wearing an interesting accessory that might invite others to compliment you.

  • Ask questions: Ask about what someone is reading, what they ordered, or the name of their dog. These simple questions can open the door to deeper conversations.

  • Engage in small talk: In elevators, on the phone with customer support, or while waiting in line, make it a habit to greet people and engage in light banter. This small effort improves the experience and can make a big difference in how connected you and others feel.

  • Be open and friendly: Trade your resting bitch face for eye contact and a smile. Your warmth creates an inviting atmosphere for others to approach you.

  • Practice mindfulness: Be present in your interactions. Listen actively and respond thoughtfully, ideally with an interesting question that gets below the surface-level exchange of “How are you?” “Good, how are you?”

What are some of the ways you’re making new connections?

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