Are you familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? It’s a psychological theory that there are five levels of needs that humans require and are motivated to achieve. The hierarchy is usually depicted as a pyramid with the most basic of needs, like air and water, at the bottom and self-actualization at the top. The idea is that as each level of needs are met, you are then capable of achieving the next.
It makes sense. After all, you will never achieve self-actualization without first meeting your needs for air, water and food.
So, at the base are basic physiological needs. The next level is about security, feeling physically, financially and emotionally safe. The interesting thing about this pyramid is what comes next.
Belongingness, love, intimacy and friendship. Otherwise known as personal connections.
Our personal relationships with others are so important that they rank next in importance right after our most basic of needs are met. If you haven’t already made your resolutions for the new year, or even if you have, adding a commitment to building and strengthening your personal relationships can do wonders for your health.
Look at just a few of the ways that focusing on your personal connections can make this your healthiest, happiest year yet.
Friendships and Personal Connections Might Add Years to Your Life
Research has shown that the effects of positive social connections on lifespans to be equal to that of major healthy lifestyle choices, such as quitting smoking. Not sure if you’re social circle is big enough to pack such powerful benefits? Don’t worry, you probably have more quality connections that you think.
For example, the quantity of personal connections in your life does matter, but not as much as the quality of those relationships. A few close friends that you have cultivated strong relationships with will win out over a larger circle of acquaintances every time.
While there are many theories on why and how personal connections contribute to increased longevity, one of the most interesting theories has to do with stress and inflammation. People who have strong personal connections typically demonstrate lower levels of stress in their lives. This is probably because they have the benefit of another person’s perspective in stressful situations. A reliable sounding board to vent to certainly doesn’t hurt either.
These relationships can prevent chronic stress. This is important because ongoing stress is related to chronic inflammation, which just happens to be enemy number one behind many of the chronic diseases that are frequent in society today.
Good Friends Can Be a Great Influence
Are you looking to hit some major health and fitness goals? Make sure that you have a few likeminded friends by your side.
You know that saying “birds of a feather flock together”? It turns out that it applies to our state of health as well. Research has looked at health habits between friends and found some interesting connections. For example, if you’ve discovered that you recently put on a few pounds, take a look at your friends. There’s a pretty good chance that they have too. When comparing groups of friends, if one person is obese or had a significant weight gain, chances are really good that at least one person in their social circle will mirror that behavior.
You might be thinking that this doesn’t necessarily sound like a positive. But, it can be if you change your perspective. Do you have people in your life that could use your healthy influence, or do you have a friend whose healthy choices you admire? Start spending more time together. Positive health habits are just as contagious as negative ones among personal connections. If you can gain weight or indulge in bad habits together, you can certainly turn it around and become positive influences in each other’s lives.
Personal Connections Help to Ease Addictive Tendencies
This is the time of year that many of us take serious inventory of our lifestyle and habits. We ask ourselves what we can be doing, what changes can we make to live healthier, more satisfying and authentic lives. Often the things that stand between us and complete contentment fall somewhere on the scale of addiction.
Addiction, which is not a topic to be taken lightly, has many faces and often doesn’t appear in the way you might think. Where you hear the word addiction, you might immediately think of alcoholism, drug abuse or smoking. The truth is that it’s so much more than that. Addiction can be anything from an unhealthy relationship that you just can’t seem to leave to an extreme focus on a normally healthy habit, such as exercise. Relationships can help you through these types of patterns by addressing something that is at the core of many addictive behaviors. Connection.
People with stronger personal relationships feel connected to someone or something other than themselves. A solid foundation of healthy friendships gives you something to hold on to during difficult and stressful times that can often lead to unhealthy actions and patterns. Instead of making a New Year’s resolution list of everything you’re going to give up, try making a resolution to cultivate your friendships instead.
Connections Inspire Passion and Creativity
Do you feel like your creative juices are running dry? Or, maybe your passion for life and your favorite hobbies are? Before beating yourself up about losing your drive, try looking at what might be missing from your life and make your friend list your starting point.
Connecting with friends and loved ones is a great way to inspire fizzling interests and creativity. Sure, quality time with creative and like-minded friends can be just the thing to motivate and inspire, but it goes beyond that.
Cultivating personal connections requires tapping into a different part of yourself. A part that is nurturing, caring and connected. It’s showing love and generosity because you want to, not because you must. There is something incredibly inspiring about reaching out and sharing your heart with someone. It removes emotional and mental blockages and reduces stress and distractions. When you invest time in caring for your relationships, you also begin to realize that you are worth the time and effort involved in a little self-care, which can include creative pursuits.
The next time you are sitting home, alone and bored, find someone to go do something creative with. Bonus points if it’s someone that you might not normally think of hanging out with.
Friendships Keep Your Mind Sharp
There is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. We all know that some alone time can be a restorative tonic. It’s also good for your body and soul to learn how to be alone, enjoy your own company and cherish the silence every now and then. Alone time isn’t a bad thing. Loneliness, on the other hand, is.
Loneliness is the feeling of being isolated and disconnected from everyone else. It’s the feeling of being your own island in a turbulent world. As if that weren’t bad enough, research has shown a connection between feelings of loneliness and an increased risk of cognitive decline.
So, if you want to keep your mind sharp, now and for years to come, make a point of staying connected. Even if you don’t currently feel like you have the strongest network of personal connections, you can still foster a sense of belonging in your community. If you’re spiritually inclined, make sure you make it to weekly service and take part in as many group events as possible. Sign up for that class you’ve always wanted to take, or do the volunteer work that’s been on your to do list for years and soak in the feeling of belonging to a group of people outside of yourself.
4 Tips for Cultivating Personal Connections
Friendships and personal connections are a beautiful thing. There are plenty of studies and research that back up all the theories that cultivating meaningful relationships is a health boosting habit. But, what’s more is that they help you to enjoy your life more fully. If you’re ready to start building new connections or strengthening the ones that you already have, here are 4 tips to get you started.
- Start by making time. The number one thing that stands in the way between more people and stronger connections is the perception that there just isn’t enough time. You’re busy, you have obligations and maybe you barely have enough time to take care of yourself. How can there possibly be time for anything extra? The thing is that when you make time, you find time. Spending time with people you care about or building new friendships relaxes you. When you’re relaxed, you’re less likely to feel stressed and burdened, and you become more open to spending more of your day doing things you enjoy.
- Make the first move. If your social calendar is looking a little dry, it’s time to get out there and make the first move. Instead of waiting for others to come to you, be the one to initiate more time together. Whether it’s a friend that you’ve lost touch with, or that mom from your kid’s school that you think you would enjoy hanging around, reach out and initiate a stronger connection.
- Embrace the curiosity of your inner child. One of the keys to fostering strong personal connections is the ability to let go of judgements and ideas about how others should be. If it causes no harm, give into your curiosity and learn more about the differences of other people. Push past judgements and try connecting with the person that you think you have nothing in common with. You might end up surprised at how much they bring to your life.
- Be vulnerable, let go and trust. You can’t strengthen relationships when you have a wall built around yourself. If you’ve felt that you’ve been floating on your own for too long, it can be easy to feel defensive and protective of yourself. Learn to let that go. You have a lot in you worth loving and sharing. Other’s can’t access that unless you let them.
This is going to be a great year for you. And, it’s only going to be made better by the cherished friends, loved ones and community that you have by your side. None of us need to do this alone. Reach out and connect for a healthier, happier you.