Social Connection: The Key to Well-Being – Why You Need It and How You Can Get It

“We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”

Brené Brown

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The age old question – What is the Key to Well-Being? What is the Secret to Happiness?

Is it to be rich and famous? To have a successful career? To be admired and respected?

Why are some people happier than others? How can people learn to be happier? Is there a secret to happiness?

Prof. Sonja Lyubomirsky has spent her career exploring these concepts.

1) What makes people happy?

2) Is happiness a good thing?

3) How and why can people learn to lead happier and more flourishing lives?

Professor Lyubomirsky runs a Positive Psychology Lab at University of California, Riverside, and studies people who are happy. After hundreds of hours studying what makes people happy, she has compiled a list of the 6 major components leading to happiness:

  1. Be grateful – Gratitude evokes positive feelings
  2. Look on the bright side – optimism maintains a sunnier disposition. Lyubomirsky explains:

“My students and I have found that truly happy individuals construe life events and daily situations in ways that seem to maintain their happiness, while unhappy individuals construe experiences in ways that seem to reinforce unhappiness.”

  1. Savor the moment – Savoring positive moments offsets our negativity bias
  2. Exercise – Exercise releases chemicals that lead to positive feelings
  3. Meditate – Less stress, more happiness
  4. Cultivate Relationships – Positive Social Connections are considered by many as the most important factor in well-being.

First of all, what is positive social connection?

Brené Brown does it beautifully:

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

Recent research shows that people with good social connections are not only happier overall, but live longer than those with poor social connections.

The probability of dying early is 20% higher for obese people, 30% higher for excessive drinkers, 50% higher for smokers… but an incredible 70% higher for people with poor social relationships.

The need to connect socially with others is as basic as our need for food, water, and shelter.

So if positive social connection is so important, why is it that so many of us struggle with this?

Sharon Salzberg describes this struggle well:

Throughout our lives we long to love ourselves more deeply and to feel connected with others. Instead, we often contract, fear intimacy, and suffer a bewildering sense of separation. We crave love, and yet we are lonely. Our delusion of being separate from one another, of being apart from all that is around us, gives rise to all of this pain.

This contraction and fear that Salzberg describes can often be linked back to infancy, and even pre-natal trauma. In a wonderful interview, Diane Poole Heller explains how we are designed for connection but how experiences in infancy and childhood can cause disconnection. Heller describes the impact of Attachment Trauma and Developmental Trauma:

In terms of the original blueprint that we’ve received, attachment patterns can be described as an unconscious blueprint that is in our body memory.

The ideal patterning is Secure Attachment:

Secure Attachment would be a positive holding environment. That means that people around you are attuned to you. They get a sense of what your needs are. Really attuned parents can eventually understand a baby’s needs, but it’s hanging in there long enough with somebody to get to the real need. And often, good mothers just naturally do that. They just have a sense about it, or they learn it as they’re having an on-going relationship with their children. And most important, of course, in all of our life and all of our situations, it’s to show up and be present. For a Secure Attachment, there is this consistent responsiveness.

According to Heller, only 40% – 50% of us have Secure Attachment patterning. The rest of us however, must learn to overcome Insecure Attachment patterns: Ambivalent, Avoidant and Disorganized.

Very briefly –

  • Avoidant patterning occurs in an environment that is highly neglectful – this Avoidant patterning can lead to a person disconnecting, dissociating and isolating.
  • Ambivalent patterning occurs in an environment that is characterized by inconsistency – parents who are full-on at times and not available at all other times. It creates a lot of anxiety because there is no predictability. Ambivalent patterning can lead to a person becoming clingy and fearful.
  • Disorganized patterning occurs when a child feels threatened, when a child feels a lot of fear and/or anger in response to the way a parent treats them. This often occurs when there is addiction, violence and chaos in a family. Disorganized patterning can lead to hyper-vigilance and/or immobilization and isolation.

(For a full description of these disorders, check out Diane Poole Heller’s website or read more about them in this article on Daily Good.)

Our lack of positive social connection can quite often be traced back to one of these patterning disorders. But there is hope. Heller describes models of trauma resolution and integrative healing techniques. She has even developed her own training series on adult attachment that she calls DARe, Dynamic Attachment Re-patterning experience which she describes in her new book called The Power of Attachment: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships.

Heller describes a simple exercise that can help with re-patterning. This practice originated with Patti Elledge’s Beam Gleam, Heller calls it her “Kind Eyes Exercise.”

Imagine that you’re looking out into the world, and there are kind, loving eyes looking back at you. This can be completely imaginary, or maybe you’ve seen a picture of the Dalai Lama looking beautifully compassionate, or even a picture from your history, one of your family members or your dog or a friend or even a stranger, but that has that “beam gleam” in their eyes that says, “I accept you. I care about you.” It’s kind of like in the olden days, when you used to surprise people at their homes, and drop something off, like a… I don’t know… banana nut bread or something. The person would open the door and go, “Oh my gosh! It’s you. Wow, I’m so glad you’re here,” and you just see them light up when they unexpectedly see you at their door. That would be a ‘beam gleam.’ That would be, you’re totally welcome. You feel completely loved by that person. You feel like they’re happy to see you, and that’s what we’re hoping to stimulate, just in eye contact.

That description is an example of a simple exercise to work on excavating old patterning and re-patterning Secure Attachment. Of course re-patterning takes time, commitment, energy, and usually a good therapist.  But if this will lead to positive social connections, and if these connections are one of the main keys to well-being and possibly a longer life, isn’t it worth it?

 

I’ll Close with a wonderful TED Talk entitled the Power and Science of Social Connection.  It’s an informative and interesting talk.

I’d love to hear about how you stay connected to others.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

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The Power of a Pause . . . How a Simple Pause Can Enhance Your Life

“A pause gives you 
breathing space
so listen 
to the whispers
of the real you”
– Tara Estacaan – Poet

Take Time to Pause

I’ve been reading in books and hearing on podcasts and TED Talks that simply by pausing at certain times, we can improve our life.

Honestly though? Can taking time to pause actually enhance my life? Can it make me happier, improve my relationships, and even re-wire my brain?

Some pretty big claims for just stopping whatever I’m doing and breathing for a few seconds!

So I did a bit of research and I discovered three different significant times to pause:

  • In the morning and throughout the day to be intentional
  • During stress and/or conflict
  • At positive moments, to savour the good

The Pause for Intention:

Our intention creates our reality. 
– Wayne Dyer

Every intention is a trigger for Transformation
– Deepak Chopra

Several books I’ve read recently encourage us to live more intentionally; that our intentions can bring transformation; that pausing to be intentional can be transformational.

I always thought of goals and intentions as more or less the same thing. But is setting a goal for the day, the same as setting an intention? What is the difference between goals and intentions?

I’ve discovered that for me, goals feel like I’m pushing toward an external thing, a driving force, like something I push to make happen. Whereas intentions feel more internal, like a spark from within that moves me.

As I explored in a blog post not long ago, when I go through each day – not with a list of goals that have to be ticked off, but with intentions for the day, it makes for a much happier and less stressful day.

Pause for Intention in the Morning

David Emerald, author of TED — The Empowerment Dynamic, beautifully describes the differences between goals and intentions:

  • Goals are focused on the future. Intentions are in the present moment.
  • Goals are a destination or specific achievement. Intentions are lived each day, independent of reaching the goal or destination.
  • Goals are external achievements. Intentions are your inner-relationships with yourself and others.

Wayne Dyer describes intentions like this:

“Intention is not something you do, but rather a force that exists in the universe as an invisible field of energy- a power that can carry us. It’s the difference between motivation and inspiration. Motivation is when you get hold of an idea and don’t let go of it until you make it a reality. Inspiration is the reverse- when an idea gets hold of you and you feel compelled to let that impulse or energy carry you along.”

Deepak Chopra explains that:

“Intention is the starting point of every dream.The sages of India observed thousands of years ago that our destiny is ultimately shaped by our deepest intentions and desires. The classic Vedic text known as the Upanishads declares, ‘You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.’  An intention is a directed impulse of consciousness that contains the seed form of that which you aim to create.”

So by pausing each morning, and indeed throughout the day, to listen to that inspiration, focus on the intention, that impulse of consciousness, I am honouring that trigger for transformation.

The Mindful Pause:

“Practice the pause. Pause before judging. Pause before assuming. Pause before accusing. Pause whenever you’re about to react harshly and you’ll avoid doing and saying things you’ll later regret.” 
– Lori Deschene

Listening to a podcast recently, Tara Brach encouraged us to pause when we are feeling stressed or in conflict.  Brach explains that one of the main keys that mindfulness offers us in times of conflict and stress is time to pause to help us move from reaction, knee jerk response to conflict that occurs in the amygdala (the most primitive part of the brain; when we are operating from the amygdala, we react quickly with fight, flight or freeze), and shift the process to the prefrontal cortex.

Pause in Conflict

Brach explains:

“When we feel threatened, part of our evolutionary design is to go into fight, flight or freeze.  None of which serve so well when it comes to good communication.  Neuroscience research confirms that mindfulness practice improves the brain’s ability to process under stress.  It trains us to shift our response away from our primitive, survival reaction, to access more recently developed parts of the brain, in particular, the prefrontal cortex with it’s capacity for reasoning, flexibility and empathy. “

So when stressed or in conflict, pausing can help us move away from getting triggered and catapulting us into reactivity, and toward choosing a more measured response, choosing reason and empathy.

The Pause to Savor:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
– Albert Einstein

Pause to Savor

In a TED talk I watched recently, Rick Hanson suggested that we pause to savor the good moments in order to offset our negativity bias. Our brains have a built-in negativity bias’ that has evolved over millions of years; it was a lot more important to notice, react to, and remember the dangers than it was to savor the good. That’s because — in the tough environments in which our ancestors lived — if they missed out on a carrot, they usually had a shot at another one later on. But if they failed to avoid a stick — a predator, a natural hazard, or aggression from others of their species  then there was no more chances to pass on their genes.

Hanson explained that the negativity bias shows up in lots of ways:

  • In a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one.
  • People will work much harder to avoid losing $100 than they will work to gain the same amount of money.
  • Painful experiences are much more memorable than pleasurable ones.

In effect, our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. This impacts our implicit memory— our underlying expectations, beliefs, action strategies, and mood — in an increasingly negative direction.

Research shows that it only takes about 30 seconds to install the good, to let it become part of our implicit memory.

Hanson has three suggestions about how to take in the good and make it stick:

    1. Look for good facts, and turn them into good experiences.

Good facts include positive events – like the taste of good coffee or getting an unexpected compliment – and positive aspects of the world and yourself. When you notice something good, let yourself feel good about it.

Try to do this at least a half dozen times a day. Each time takes just 30 seconds or so. It’s private; no one needs to know you are taking in the good. You can do it on the fly in daily life, or at special times of reflection, like just before falling asleep (when the brain is especially receptive to new learning).

2.  Really enjoy the experience.

Most of the time, a good experience is pretty mild, and that’s fine. But try to stay with it for 20 or 30 seconds in a row – instead of getting distracted by something else. As you can, sense that it is filling your body, becoming a rich experience. As Marc Lewis and other researchers have shown, the longer that something is held in awareness and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons that fire and thus wire together, and the stronger the trace in memory.

3.  Intend and sense that the good experience is sinking into you.

People do this in different ways. Some feel it in their body like a warm glow spreading through their chest like the warmth of a cup of hot cocoa on a cold wintry day. Others visualize things like a golden syrup sinking down inside, bringing good feelings and soothing old places of hurt.

So when we have an experience and we feel good because of that experience, take time to feel good; pause and let it sink in.

So honestly, yes, a simple pause really does have incredible power. Choosing to pause before jumping out of bed to set a simple intention for the day; choosing to pause when I’m triggered from anger or stress, to refrain from reacting from my primitive part of my brain and instead choosing a more measured and empathetic response; and choosing to pause throughout the day to savour the good really will enhance my life.  Taking the time to pause absolutely can enhance my life.

I’ll close with a great talk by Rick Hanson from about a year ago at The Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education

I’d love to hear if you pause during your day to set an intention or avoid conflict or to savor the moment.

And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Get Bored and Enjoy a Daydream …

“Daydream, imagine, and reflect. It’s the source of infinite creativity.”

Deepak Chopra

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I was holding a ladder for my husband.  The sun was on my back, my hands were tight on the ladder, the ladder leaned precariously.  The sensor light that he was trying to install was not being co-operative and it was all taking much longer than anticipated.  I couldn’t check my phone, my hands were on the ladder; I couldn’t walk away, the ladder might fall; I was stuck there, unable to ‘do’ anything and had to be present to keep my husband safe.  I was bored and in this space of focused inaction, my mind drifted and I began to daydream . . . and suddenly I got the inspiration for a new book.  The cover ‘appeared’ in my mind’s eye, I ‘heard’ dialogue, I ‘felt’ characters.  I got so excited!  I wanted to run inside and take some notes . . . but there was still that damn ladder to hold. . .

I was floating on my back in the sea near my house; I was the only one on the beach.  The sun was on my face and I drifted aimlessly.  I had to be focused so I wouldn’t sink or float too far out, but I didn’t need to ‘do’ anything.  I was in a state of focused inaction, and my mind drifted and I began to daydream . . . and suddenly I got the inspiration for an online workshop.  The whole content just seemed to download into me.  I started to shake and quake, almost as though a stingray had stung me (some do occasionally visit our beach.) I jumped out of the water and ran up to my house shaking with excitement.  I started telling my husband what had happened and he asked what I was going to do with this new info. I burst into tears and said, “I have no idea!”  The idea had downloaded but I had no clue how to move forward with it. Creative thought and logical next steps don’t always coincide. But the creative idea had come and I had to trust that eventually all would become clear . . .

I was curious – was this focused inactivity a precursor to creative thought? I did some research and found that boredom and daydreaming do indeed open us up to creative thought.

“When you pay attention to boredom it gets unbelievably interesting.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn

So what actually happens to us when we are bored? I discovered that when we get bored, we ignite a circuit in our brain called the ‘Default Mode.’

In a Psychology Today article, investigative journalist, Manoush Zomorodiexplains:

“We tend to think of boredom as the exact opposite of productivity, but leading neuroscientists are starting to believe that boredom is the secret sauce that can 10x creative potential. Your brain has a resting state that scientists are calling ‘default mode.’

‘Default mode’ is like the screensaver on your computer that comes on to keep things moving when there’s not a whole lot going on. It is your brain on autopilot and it switches on when we’re doing menial activities like washing dishes or going through predictable, daily routines like driving to work or school.”

One study found that people who want to come up with creative ideas would do well to let their minds drift. The study reported in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that people who allow themselves to become bored  “are more likely to engage in sensation seeking.”  When bored, people look for things that engage their minds and stimulate the brain’s reward centers; and these people tend toward more “divergent thinking styles” and the ability to come up with creative new ideas.

Boredom Researcher and Senior Psychology Lecturer, Dr. Sandi Mann explains:

Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to really wander, you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious, which allows sort of different connections to take place. The subconscious is not constrained by a need to put order to things. The subconscious is much freer.”

Several studies have reinforced the fact that the connections between different parts of our brains increase when we are daydreaming.

In other words, Default Mode switches on during mindless activity or focused inactivity, time that you allow your mind to wander, and this mind wandering time allows us to move beyond our conscious connections and different connections start to take place. Boredom often leads to daydreaming, and daydreaming seems to spark creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation. Heather Lench, from the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences at Texas A & M explains: “Boredom becomes a seeking state. Whatever you’re doing is not quite satisfying for your brain, so it seeks stimulation.”

Daydreaming incubates creative discovery.” – Daniel Goleman

One writer believes that this subconscious probing process suggests that we are hardwired for creativity:

By probing into our subconscious, our brain uses, develops, and strengthens abstract connections that we don’t rely on heavily during regular, logical thought processes. Using these neural connections improves the communication pathways between the different areas of our brain. And this results in more effective communication between brain cells and more cognitive abilities. The fact that neural networks expand and diversify during bouts of boredom suggests that human beings are hardwired to create, design, imagine, invent, and develop new thoughts, ideas, stories, music, and arts.”

Dr. Mann has found that the key to thinking more creatively is to make sure you have some downtime to allow your mind to wander. She even suggests scheduling “daydreaming” time or doing activities like swimming or walking (or holding ladders?) where your mind is able to wander without electronic distraction.

Dr. Jerome Singer, specialist in research on the psychology of imagination and daydreaming, supports the idea of scheduling time for your mind to wander.

Intentionally allowing your mind to wander allows it to access memories and meaningful connections. When you’re bored, you’re tapping into your unconscious brain, picking up long-lost memories and connecting ideas.“

Amy Fries, author of Daydreams at Work: Wake Up Your Creative Powers, explains that the ability to fully access our knowledge, memories, experiences, and imagination helps guide us to those incredible ‘ah ha’ or ‘light bulb’ moments.

“This calm and slightly detached state, which is the hallmark of daydreaming, helps to ‘quiet the noise’ so that we can experience the answer or connection . . . we are able to link up to disparate ideas and even envision things and experiences that haven’t happened in the realm of our knowledge or experience.”

So the next time you’re bored and you reach for you phone to play Candy Crush or check your Facebook page, instead let your mind wander and daydream a bit, you never know what creative idea might spark into being.

I’ll close with the inspirational TED Talk by Manoush Zomorodi entitled: How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas.

 

I’d love to hear about any experiences you’ve had with boredom, daydreaming and creativity.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.