The pandemic brought home our deep need to be with people. Loneliness has risen up the ranks of ‘Things that the world is talking about’ but it’s not new – it’s always been a universal human experience. What’s changed is our understanding of how much it can deeply impact our well-being and quality of life.
While the solution to loneliness often seems straightforward—connecting with others—it goes beyond mere social interaction. Loneliness is far more than just solitude. It’s the distressing feeling of being disconnected, even when in the presence of others.
Understanding the distinction between socializing and genuine connection is absolutely crucial. We can all live a more fulfilled life by taking this into account. Even if we’re not ‘lonely’ we often don’t optimise the relationships that really improve our quality of life. So, what’s the difference between connection that means something versus connection that doesn’t?
The Importance of Shared Meaning: Shared meaning refers to finding something that is significant, purposeful, and valuable to you as an individual or to a group you belong to. In my 20s I headed off travelling the world on my own. I thought it would be a great challenge. But I soon found out that the contrast of having someone to share the wonder of a new place with or going it alone was stark. In New Zealand various friends joined me, but when I travelled through Asia there was no one to turn to and marvel at the cultures and beauty of a new place. No one to share the significance of experiencing something so different for the first time. I often felt profoundly lonely. Shared meaning comes from a shared experience but can also be a common interest, goal, passion that fosters a sense of belonging and deepens connections.
Nurturing Relationships: Once we find people that we share meaning with, we cannot however just sit back and expect the magic of human connection to happen. It’s essential to invest time and energy into nurturing relationships. While some connections may feel effortless, all relationships require sustained effort over time. In order to nurture our relationships we need to consciously:
- be with them, not just in person but also in our heads. That means trying not to slip into the trap of thinking through what to say next or focussing more on ourself than the other person.
- engage with empathy, to listen without trying to solve and have a willingness to appreciate the other’s perspective.
- hold the space for the other person to express how they really feel, getting comfortable with silence and allowing them to explore their thinking out loud.
Doing this feeds the real value that comes from connection. It’s incredibly rewarding but surprisingly stripped away from our modern way of life. It takes practice. But whether we are speaking to a waitress or spending time with loved ones, being conscious of truly engaging allows us to keep improving our ability to connect (research shows that we are able to develop our emotional intelligence). And of course, it also optimises both our own and the other persons experience of the connection.
Embracing Diversity: Finding connections that reach beyond the mould of ‘people like me’ can be incredibly powerful. Recognizing and respecting different perspectives, backgrounds, and beliefs enriches the shared experience. We are naturally inclined to gravitate toward people who have a similar background to us, so this often requires a conscious effort to move beyond our comfort zone. However, embracing diversity, proactively nurturing our desire for authentic connections that challenge our biases and expand our understanding of others allows us to learn and as a result grow. We glean invaluable wisdom from dissimilar perspectives expanding the horizons of our understanding. Through the alchemy of authentic connections, we can almost undergo a metamorphosis of the self and our place within the intricate tapestry that weaves the human experience.
By actively seeking genuine connections, fostering authentic relationships, embracing diversity, and engaging in meaningful activities together, we can cultivate a profound sense of belonging and fulfilment that resonates at the very core of our being. While it does require ongoing conscious awareness, the effort is well worth the return. This kind of connection feeds our souls, reaching depths that often surpass our conscious ultimately allowing us to lead richer, more purposeful lives.
To learn more about our platform Oka (soon to be launched) which helps meaningful connection why not follow us?
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio