We humans are social creatures, and we place a lot of value on our relationships. In this day and age of social media, the number of people that we know and connections that we have gets a fair amount of attention. Quantity, of course, isn't everything — and it probably isn't even the most important thing!
Our relationships and social ties have a significant impact on our well-being, affecting both the quality and length of our lives. Research has found that people with high quality (and quantity) of social ties have - among other things - lower risks for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and poor immune function.
Why is this so? One reason is that wellness, to put it simply, is contagious. Experts have determined that our social ties influence health (for better or worse) because they influence the habits and beliefs that affect our health and well-being.
There are other reasons too, though. Good social support reduces the impact of stress, fosters a sense of meaning and purpose, and has beneficial effects on our immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems. All of this is thought to reduce the wear and tear ("allostatic load") on the body over time.
Since our social ties have such a significant influence on our well-being, cultivating supportive relationships is a great wellness strategy. While we can't change people — we can influence them, and we can certainly change the ways that we interact with them.
Here are seven ways to build deep connections that support your well-being:
1. Identify Key Relationships. There are a number of tools - like drawing relationship circles that can help you identify the important people in your life. These can include family, friends, co-workers, or paid professionals that you know and love or trust. Once you've identified these people, notice who they are for you. Who shares your interests? Who shares your values? Who inspires or encourages you? Once you can identify and appreciate the core people in your life, you can choose how to invest your energy.
2. Express Appreciation. Whether you are interacting with your most cherished loved ones, your co-workers, or service providers who have been helpful, everyone likes to feel appreciated. Expressing appreciation is a simple kindness that fosters goodwill and respect. Plus, it is free! There are few, if any, downsides to investing in this simple practice.
3. Schedule Time Together. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to take our most critical relationships for granted. Make sure that you are making time for the most important people in your life. One of the best ways to do that is to create recurring appointments or regular opportunities to be together. Phone calls count too! Planning these encounters and putting them on your calendar helps assure that they will actually happen.
4. Stay Curious. When we are first getting to know someone, we may have lots of questions. We may become less inquisitive once we think we "know" them. Allowing yourself to stay curious about people helps you be a great listener and to continue to develop your relationships no matter how long you've known someone.
5. Ask for What You Need. Most people enjoy supporting others, yet we are often unwilling to ask for what we need. Why is that? Consider it this way: When you allow someone to contribute to you, you are allowing them the opportunity to be generous - which is an act of generosity on your part. Don't be stingy! If you don't know how to ask, Nonviolent Communication (also called Compassionate Communication) is a great model to use as you practice.
6. Resolve Conflicts Promptly. Conflict is a part of life, although many of us might prefer to avoid it. Unresolved conflicts have a way of festering and escalating. Furthermore, when we don't resolve conflicts we miss out on important opportunities to deepen our relationships and build trust. Taking the time and effort to resolve an issue can help you learn about yourself and the person with whom you disagree. Once again, Nonviolent Communication provides great tools for resolving conflicts in a way that honors everyone involved.
7. Be a Leader in your Life. As you take stock of your relationships, you may notice gaps. Perhaps you are longing for greater affinity with your co-workers, you'd like to find more friends who share your values, or you're searching for a service provider who you can trust. If you see growth opportunities, resolve to take steps towards your vision (and then take them)!
What about you? How do the connections in your life support your well-being — and how do you nurture them well? Please share your thoughts below!