This chance for you and I to connect once a week makes me happy. I hope you feel a little of that yourself.
This feeling of rapport is actually a fundamental part of the fifth dimension of our S.P.I.R.I.T. model of psychological well-being.
The second “I” stands for “Interconnection,” or, in the words of Professor Carol Ryff, whose work inspired our new model, “Positive relations with others.”
(Although that, of course, starts with a P, and our P is Purpose.)
To rate high on the dimension, Professor Ryff said you would have warm, satisfying, trusting relationships with others, and would be concerned about their welfare.
You’d also be capable of strong empathy, affection, and intimacy.
Now, it’s clearly true that some people find it easier than others to have close relationships.
But it’s probably no bad thing for society as a whole that we have both gregarious individuals, and others who appear to thrive either on their own, or with relatively few close friends.
If everyone was the same, life would either be one, long, exhausting party, or we’d all never leave our bedrooms.
The truth is, it might simply be a matter of perspective.
Someone with hundreds of Facebook “friends” may really only have the same six-or-so really close relationships as another individual who’s more inclined to keep themselves to themselves.
Anyway, on the basis that good relationships are important for good emotional health, let’s look at five important steps that can lead to us feeling closer to other people.
1. Listen well
Researchers studying long-term relationships noticed that when people have known one another for more than a few months, they tend to ask each other fewer meaningful questions.
And even if they do ask them, they don’t really listen to the answers.
Listening takes hard work. It requires paying attention, asking questions to encourage the other person to open up, and it means regularly checking-in to make sure you’ve understood things properly.
But in a study with chronically-ill patients, the research team improved their bond with participants simply by asking them “Tell me more.”
When you lean forward and make eye contact while you do so, you’ll increase the connection between you and another person.
2. Pay attention
When I’ve had a haircut, I’m always a bit surprised if people who see me regularly don’t comment on it.
Maybe they don’t notice, or perhaps they think it’s too personal to mention? (Hopefully it isn’t because it’s made them want to laugh.)
The thing is, though, I’d like it if they did say something.
Researchers here in the USA asked football season-ticket holders to notice things that were different about their team – different shirts, plays, or formations, for example – for a period of six weeks.
When their bond with the team was assessed before and after this experiment, it had grown stronger.
So to improve relationships, try noticing what’s different about someone, and tell them. Nicely, of course.
3. Switch off
Another study asked individuals to sit at a table for a simple conversation with a researcher who either placed a phone or a notebook on the tabletop.
When the phone was there, participants rated their satisfaction with the conversation as being poorer than it was when the notebook was on the table.
This was true even if the phone was switched off.
It’s estimated that on average we spend more than 50 hours a week connected to electronic devices.
So if you want richer conversations, try placing your phone out of sight. You can do it.
4. Pay compliments
On my radio show recently, I said “Can I just say, you’re looking great today?”.
Of course, every listener heard exactly the same thing, but it actually prompted one of them to text me, saying that even though she knew lots of others were hearing it at the same time, it made her smile.
Paying compliments to other people almost always warms the bond between you and them, especially when those compliments are genuine and honest.
They seem to work particularly well when you single out someone’s effort, effectiveness, or judgement for praise.
5. Celebrate successes
I know that for some, the success of others can make them feel jealous.
Social comparisons can be bad for us.
One way to avoid this is to actively involve yourself in celebrating others’ successes.
Try to experience their pleasure yourself, rather than feeling envious.
If a friend gets an award, promotion, or raise, it could be as simple as sending them a congratulatory email or text.
Our connections with others are really important.
How will you warm up some of yours in the next day or so?