I don’t suffer from depression, but I certainly have my moments of feeling down in the dumps. Sometimes it’s because I’m dealing with difficult issues, or life is just not going my way. Other times, it’s hard to pinpoint where my sadness comes from. Usually an upbeat person, these bouts leave me drained and tired, with no energy to do anything I don’t absolutely have to do. I just want to be alone.
But that never makes me feel better.
The reason, I believe, is that we all need to feel connected. Study after study reports that as social animals, humans need each other. We need to feel supported, valued, and loved. Those who have good relationships are happier, healthier, and live longer than those who report feeling lonely.
When I think of my own experiences, it’s amazing how connecting with someone, even briefly, can give me what I need to soldier on. For example, there are times I’ve felt as described above, and have been moping around at home. My phone rings. My impulse is to not answer it, but for some reason I do, and I hear a good friend’s voice on the other end. She’s just calling to say hello. We chat about nothing important for about five minutes, promise to get together soon, and say our good-byes.
My spirits have been lifted. I even smile as I remember something my friend and I just joked about. I decide to push myself and I get out of the house to take a walk. Some people smile at me as we pass and I smile back. I compliment a passerby on her sweater and stop to pet someone’s dog. By the time I arrive home I am feeling much better than I had been feeling before my phone rang.
We often think of connecting with others as having heart-to-heart talks where we share our deepest thoughts and emotions, or open up about hard-to-discuss feelings or events in our lives. This is certainly connecting, and is important for us all to do at times.
But connections can also be as simple as my walk. A pleasant interaction with a store clerk, a shared laugh-out-loud joke, even a text message to a family member, can all, to some degree, satisfy our innate need for community.
Unfortunately, many of us have almost totally replaced our face-to-face connections with virtual ones. We rack up friends on Facebook, and join all kinds of virtual community groups. We shop online, thereby limiting those pleasant interactions with store employees mentioned above. In fact, we often pride ourselves on our independence, on focusing solely on our own aspirations and desires, and on not needing anyone else. This trajectory might lead us to our personal goals, such as a successful career, but just might leave us feeling lonely as well.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t work hard to reach our goals. I just think there needs to be a balance. In living our lives and pursuing our dreams, we need to recognize how important basic human connections are to our well-being. Once we realize this, we can consciously work toward making these connections that are sure to enhance our lives. And it just might be as simple as going outside for a walk.