OUR WEB OF CONNECTION
By Martha E. Fagan, RN. BSN
While pondering what to write this week my thoughts kept returning to the importance of connection in our lives. The importance of family, of friends, of community, of feeling like we’re part of a network.
As COVID restrictions continue and we try to find ways to stay close while remaining physically distant it’s easy at times to feel isolated. It’s hard to feel connected when we’re not seeing people’s smiles behind their masks, not hugging a grandchild, not being able to console a grieving friend by lending a shoulder to cry on, not holding the hand of someone in pain or simply not sitting close around a dinner table.
Several years ago, I wrote a blog about an incredible experience of connection in my life that exemplified much of what the scientific research supports about the importance of connection and relationships in our lives.
I’m including it here below… keep in mind as you read this is pre-COVID.
“Last weekend my dear friend Rita asked if I would help her move into her new apartment. We have been friends for over 30 years, so this was not the first time she has requested my help with moving. The difference this time was that it was not an exciting or enlivening move to a new place… rather it was leaving a place called home. Rita is in the midst of a separation from her husband, and this move is the first of many necessary moves in the process. In other words, it is a bittersweet new beginning in her life.
Saturday morning dawned with gray skies and damp, cold, New England “spring” weather. Staying snuggled in my warm bed with my current good book was far more appealing than making an hour-long trek to help out. Since friendship trumps reading in my world, I soon found myself climbing the stairs to Rita’s new abode, the first of many climbs that day.
Once in the apartment I was struck by a cacophony of sound… women’s expressive voices of admiration screams of discovery and exclamation, and peals of laughter. This room was filled with her call-in-the-middle-of-the-night friends, her “choir”. This room was filled with LOVE!
In the book LOVE 2.0 How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do and Become, author Barbara Fredrickson PhD asks us to look at the emotion of love with new eyes. She writes, “…although you may subscribe to a whole host of definitions of love, your body subscribes to just one: Love is that micro-moment of warmth and connection that you share with another living being.” Love happens in the moment.
Fredrickson is best known for her “broaden and build theory” described in her first book, Positivity. Research supporting this theory shows that positive emotions—such as joy, amusement, gratitude, and love—open us up, widen our vision and allow us to see the big picture. “Those pleasant yet fleeting moments of connection that you experience with others expand your awareness in ways that accrue to create lasting and beneficial changes in your life.” Positive emotions transform us for the better and utilizing them as we navigate our days helps us to overcome negativity and to thrive. And love is the supreme positive emotion!
Getting back to that gathering on Saturday morning, the connection and camaraderie in the room were palpable. If we use Fredrickson’s definition of love, the shared moment of connection between people, then LOVE was present in that apartment in bold, capital letters!
Studies also have confirmed that people’s sense of connection through relationships is one of the top measures of well-being. Having a sense of belonging, of being part of something, of caring and being cared for impacts how we feel and how we respond to life’s daily challenges.
David Meyers, a best-selling psychology textbook author describes it this way: “There are few better remedies for unhappiness than an intimate friendship with someone who cares deeply about you. Confiding is good for soul and body.”
We will all face challenges, sadness and loss in life. The question is not if these “storms” will arise, but when? Our feelings of connection help strengthen us by building our resilience muscles. Nurturing our relationships is a way to enjoy life now and prepare for the times when life may not be so enjoyable.
It turns out having a support network improves our overall health as well. A study published in Science by House, Landis and Umberson concluded that having one or more close individuals in our lives, people we can rely on, has been found to be as important a factor for whether we develop chronic disease as the risk factors of smoking, hypertension, and obesity. Simply put, social support could be considered a magic pill for health and happiness.
Another exciting insight is that we can glean moments of love in our simple everyday interactions with strangers and friends alike. Making eye contact, smiling, actively engaging in the moment releases the love hormones in our bodies and brains in the same way as when we are interacting with those we consider dear to us. As we evoke these moments of positivity in our days, we attract more of them, becoming a human magnet for positive emotion.
So, Rita will struggle through this chapter in her life AND she will have a much easier time because of the network of love and support she has surrounding her. She can boost herself even more by consciously seeking positive moments of connection throughout her day…at work, in her neighborhood or at the grocery store.
There is much in our lives that we have little or no control over. Thankfully building healthy relationships is not one of them. We can strive to expand our circle of connection as one way of bringing joy to our days and helping to insulate us from life’s pain. Our shared humanity is the platform on which we can build a life filled with love and meaningful relationships.
I’ll be there for my friend Rita and I know when I need her she will be by my side. For that I am ever grateful.
Who’s in your circle?”
I hope reading this reminds you of the relationships in your life that sustain you and help you get through the toughest times. We’re in such times now, we need each other, and we need to remember that the invisible lines of connection are still strong even with social distancing.
During COVID times we need to see people’s smiles in their eyes, hug our grandchildren, console a friend with kind words rather than a shoulder or hug and sit around a table leaving space between us. It’s hard AND it’s worth all the effort to ensure we come through this with health, resilience and stronger relationships.
Martha Fagan is the Vice Chair of the Bacon Free Library. She may be reached through her email at [email protected]