In his book Social scientist Matthew Lieberman argues that our need for social connection is as fundamental as our need for food and water. Social pain, the feeling we get when someone snubs us, rejects us, or bullies us is as real as physical pain. How often have we turned on the news to see a child or teenager has committed suicide after being bullied?
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places human connection at the center of our well being. It follows our physiological and safety needs but is before self esteem and self actualization. According to Maslow’s pyramid, without human connection of some kind we cannot reach our full potential.
We live in the age of social media. We connect with each other through an electronic device more than verbal or physical communication. We text, send emails, and post messages. A friend of mine looks at her phone every morning to see if her boyfriend has sent her a “Good morning Beautiful” text. If he fails to send that text her anxiety rises. Why didn’t he text me? She doesn’t think he’s cheating. She doesn’t doubt that he loves her. Her anxiety is the result of the instant gratification addiction we’ve all developed from our smart phones. When our parents and grandparents were our age they had to put more effort into connecting. Without a smart phone to send a text they had to make a conscious intention to connect. They might get up earlier in the morning so they had time to have a cup of coffee together at the kitchen table before work and kids and life got in the way. There was no such thing as Netflix and chill. They carved out time to go on picnics, a bike ride, dancing, dinner. In other words, they went out on real dates. Church was massively important and not just for the sermon. The social connection from going to church was extremely important. Folks arrived early and mingled in the hall outside the chapel to say good morning. They often sat in the same pews next to the same people, and after the service everyone stayed for coffee and sweets. Coffee hour was the time to catch up with each other and share what was going on in each other’s lives. Church attendance has decreased in recent years. I myself am guilty of sleeping in and listening to sermons on podcasts. Another intention I am setting for this month is to make the effort to get up on Sundays and start going to church. I miss the social connection.
As adults we have fewer built in connection opportunities than when we were kids (i.e. sports, school). This is why I think it’s more important than ever that when we do have the opportunity to connect with other people we take full advantage. Turn off your cell phone when you are having lunch or dinner with a friend. Those texts and calls can wait 2 hours while you give your full attention to the human in front of you. It’s not just about good manners. It’s about being fully present. You cannot be fully present with the person in front of you if you’re answering texts and calls on your phone.
Make one family meal a day mandatory. Dinner time at the table used to be a big deal. But let’s be realistic; it’s the 21st century and a lot has changed. Both parents work, and work schedules do not always align. After school activities means a lot of driving around in the minivan and not much time for the dinner table. But a family meal doesn’t have to be dinner. A family meal could be breakfast. It may be that the only time of day your family is together is in the morning. So, put a breakfast casserole together in the evening so you can pop it in the oven in the morning. Put oatmeal in your crockpot the night before. Make everyone gather around the table sans phone in the morning for breakfast. Talk about the day ahead. It can have just as great an impact as having dinner together.
Human connection nourishes our heart. But it must be authentic to have a lasting positive impact. I recently cleaned out my friends lists on social media. I removed all the toxic positive people. What is toxic positivity? Well, for me it’s the glossy perfect, always happy, always grateful for god family and life, over-filtered inauthentic folks. I stopped following a lot of brand ambassadors. I cleared my feed of women who layer a half dozen filters on their pictures and look more plastic than human. And, I hid the folks who constantly post the memes and messages telling us all to “Make it a great day!” First, I’m tired of everyone trying to sell me something. I don’t want to buy your shakes, vitamins, or athletic wear. Second, stop with all the filters already! Don’t hide the lines on your face. Those lines tell me you have lived life. And third, spare me the motivational messages. No one wakes up and says “I want to have a shit day today.” Life happens. It comes at you hard and fast. I need to know that when the shit hits the fan I can turn to you and rather than hear you say “Keep your chin up!” you will say something more like “Man that sucks! I’m so sorry you have to go through that.” That is real connection. That is human connection. That is what we’re all hungry for.