Psychologists would tell us that our greatest need beyond the basics for survival is our need to belong and be accepted.
We can all relate to the positive emotional sense we feel when we know we are part of a team on the athletic field, the workplace, the community, and certainly the home. When we join efforts with others to support a cause bigger than ourselves, we feel most alive. Whether that cause is building a strong family, a winning basketball team, a competitive business, a community project, or the defense of a nation, the sense of belonging meets a real personal need. Knowing we are an accepted part of something bigger than ourselves is critical to our emotional health and stability.
When we become disconnected or feel rejected from a group, we struggle. In the absence of a sense of connection to others and a cause greater than our own, we all can become susceptible to loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Even those so-called “tough guys” or “tough gals” among us, will eventually reach a breaking point without a connection to something bigger than themselves.
As our world gets more connected with technology like the internet, smart phones, and social media, research would show that we are at risk for minimizing the benefits of genuine connection. In addition, today’s technology enables the instant personalization of getting what we want, when we want it, and many times that fosters isolation instead of connection during our “free time” beyond school, work, and the essentials of running a home. We don’t need a PhD in psychology to see the reality around us. All we need to do is look around a lunchroom at work, an evening at home, or the ‘waiting period’ for a practice to end, a bus to arrive, or a meal to be served.
Social scientists would say that our technology dependent connections impact the depth of our relationships mostly because we lose empathy. Sure, “emojis” help with emotional connection, but it is not optimal. I am sure we have all seen a picture of a beautiful sandy beach and I hope most of us have felt the warm touch of beach sand between our toes. There is a difference in the connection.
As important as feeling a sense of belonging and being connected are to our health, I would recommend that we add a few last minute gifts to our list this holiday season. We should all add the gift of connection to those closest to us. An important challenge for all of us would be to not just think about the seemingly peaceful relationships in our lives, but we should act with courage and add those to the list where perhaps the stresses and strains of this year has put the relationship in a difficult spot.
Here are a few thoughts to help make the gift of connection this holiday season be more meaningful and engaging:
(1) Acknowledge the reality that there is pain, discomfort, and challenge in any relationship. The ups and downs in relationships are a sign of LIFE, not death. “Flat-lining” by way of not caring is a sign of death in relationships.
(2) Admit that “I am not perfect.” Hopefully, they will acknowledge their own “non-perfect” reality, but don’t sweat it if they don’t.
(3) Act with the desire to grow and reach the full potential of the relationship versus being anchored to past mistakes.
(4) Accept them. When possible, tell them face to face that they belong to the family, the team, or the project. Tell them that they are a needed part of the group and the group would not be the same without their contribution.
It takes an intentional effort to give the gift of connection to those around us. Especially those where we know there is a struggle in the relationship. The gift of connection will take more than the swipe of a credit card. However, as we make the effort to build stronger connections with those closest to us, we will build and strengthen our character, and Character Creates Opportunity® to contribute to the emotional health and well-bring of those we care about most.