Category Archives: Connect

It’s not easy to accept invitations when you feel low, but doing so could really help.

Most of us enjoy the company of others now and then, even though we may also be happy on our own sometimes.

Spending time alone is fine, just so long as it doesn’t turn into the only thing you do.

The trouble is, although it’s generally true that being around people will give you a boost, if you’re feeling ropey, the obstinate part of your brain may try to keep you from social situations.

Crazy isn’t it?

Logic tells you to accept invitations, to arrange to see a friend, or to pick up the phone, but the annoyingly pervasive emotional side of your thinking tells you not to.

What to do therefore?

Well, perhaps when the opportunity arises to spend time with others on one of these not-so-sunny days, ask yourself ‘What’s the worst that might happen if I ignored my emotions’?


I guess the answer could be that you might get wherever you’re going, then would need to make your excuses and go home.

But (a) that’s not actually terribly likely, and (b) it really wouldn’t be that awful a thing to do if it was truly necessary.

So why not try this next time you feel a bit rough?

Nine times out of ten it’s worked for me.

Spend time with others, even when you feel low. Especially when you feel low, actually.

It’s good to be with you for the next few minutes, and I hope you feel the same. Unless you’re hiding under the desk, we’re not together in person.

But most of us enjoy being in the company of other people. Even if at times we choose to be on our own. (That’s fine too, just as long as it doesn’t turn into the only thing you do.)

The trouble is—and we’ve spoken about this in the past—although it’s often the case that being around other people can give you a real boost, the obstinate part of your brain may try to stop you joining in with social situations when you’re feeling a bit ropey.


Crazy isn’t it? Logic tells you to accept invitations, to arrange to see a friend, or to pick up the phone. But the annoyingly pervasive emotional side of your thinking tells you not to.

What to do? Well perhaps, when the opportunity arises to spend time with others on one of those not-so-great days, ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that could happen if I ignored my emotions’?

I guess the answer is that you might get wherever you’re going, then could need to make your excuses and go home.

But (a) that’s not actually very likely, and (b) it really wouldn’t be that awful a thing to do if it was really necessary.

Why not try this next time you feel a bit rough?

Nine times out of ten, it works for me.

On seeing red when someone asks if you’re feeling better.

I like to think of myself as being pretty mild-mannered.

I don’t fly into a furious rage if someone cuts me up in traffic.

I definitely don’t throw a hissy fit when someone uses the last of the toilet roll without replacing it.

And I only get slightly miffed (honest) when a telemarketer calls at an inappropriate moment (although, frankly, isn’t any moment inappropriate when it comes to telemarketers?).


However, lest this should paint me as some paragon of patience, there does actually happen to be one scenario which makes me see red, in a furious, livid and really rather ashamed kind of way.

Maybe it’s just me, but I do get disproportionately angry when, after I’ve been going through a bad time, someone who really ought to know me well asks ‘Are you feeling better?’.

I shouldn’t blame them of course.

They’ve almost certainly said it innocently.

Unfortunately, however, in the mind of the receiver this very innocent little question can translate itself into ‘I’m really not sure there was anything terribly wrong with you anyway, but I’m assuming you’re now over it’.

I know it’s wrong in so many ways to interpret it in this way, but that’s the danger of closed questions.

They make assumptions.

They discourage meaningful answers.

And they make me cross.

So if you really want to know how I feel, please do the proper open-ended thing.

Ask ‘How are you feeling?’, then you’re more likely to get the truth from me.

It’s good for us to connect with others, and the more we do it, the better we’re likely to feel.

It’s crucial to remember, though, that good connection is just as much about quality as it is about quantity.

A good radio interviewer asks open-ended questions, rather than ones which solicit no more than one word answers, so perhaps today’s a day to make like a broadcaster?

As for me, am I feeling better?

Well I was until you asked me.

4 ways to connect with people when you really don’t feel like it.

Immediately before you give blood, a nurse drips a single drop of your red stuff into a small test tube filled with clear blue liquid, and in so doing is able to tell – among other things – whether you’re anaemic or not.

If you’re not, fine, you can go ahead and donate. Should you be anaemic, though, I think she’d send you off to see your doctor who’d probably prescribe an iron supplement and advise you to eat iron-rich foods such as dark-green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, beans and nuts.


It’s a simple enough model, isn’t it? A quick test reveals a deficiency in something, which you fix by consuming more of whatever it is you’re missing.

It makes me wonder if a similar ‘take two of these and call me in the morning’ approach might work for us when we’re in need of an emotional boost. I’m not thinking medication, more simple actions we can take.

Let’s see how this might pan out, for instance, with human connection. When your mood is low, it’s pretty common to keep oneself to oneself. In a ‘chicken and egg’ kind of way, you may feel blue when you have little contact with others, but are also likely to initiate little contact when you feel this way.

Imagine there was a blood test that would tell you whether you’d connected with a healthy number of people the day before, and visualise the nurse or doctor giving you the results: ‘Ah, I can see you’ve been having fewer conversations than you normally might. Here’s what I’d like you to do…’

And this would be what, exactly? I’m sure you’ll have ideas of your own, but here are a handful of mine.

1. If you really don’t feel like talking, email or text a friend you’ve not contacted for a while. Just a ‘Hello’ might be enough to elicit a reply.

2. Connections with people you don’t know can work too. When you’re in the supermarket or library, ask the person who serves you what sort of day they’re having. Maybe it’ll result in a little exchange.

3. Find an excuse to knock on a neighbour’s door, even if it’s simply to say you wanted to make sure they were OK. A few minutes on their doorstep could make a valuable contribution to defeating your connection-anaemia.

4. Another tip for feeling connected on days on which you truly, madly, deeply feel unable to engage in conversation? Listen to a talk radio show. Don’t just have it on in the background, concentrate and follow along, just as you would if you were chatting with someone.

Just as your blood needs iron, your soul needs connections. So when you’re running low, be sure to take a supplement or two.

Even when you feel like it, don’t cut yourself off

In cartoons, the wise old guru waits bearded and cross-legged at the pointy summit of a mountain, dressed in a flimsy loincloth, awaiting bedraggled climbers who seek the meaning of life.

It’s one of those favourite situations for cartoonists, just like the psychiatrist with a patient on his couch, and the tiny boss sitting behind the enormous desk.

These little scenarios become shorthand ways of referencing ideas which we just ‘get’.


But that bearded guru: is he really so wise to be sitting there all alone?


Perhaps the point is that we’re supposed to believe he’s so full of wisdom that he’s transcended the need for human company, and in any case there’ll always be enlightenment-seekers beating a path to his ledge.

The truth is, however (and at the risk of trampling all over someone’s advertising line) we really are better connected.

On a bad day, we metaphorically pull the curtains, shutting ourselves away from the world, at the very same time hoping and praying that someone – anyone – will appear from nowhere and lift us from our gloom.

The determined depressive (I’ve been that man) needs friends, and s(he) needs friends with thick skin.

They’ll have to put up with calls not being returned, and plans being changed.

They’ll have to try and understand that a gloomy countenance isn’t directed at those nearby, even though it will probably feel that way.

If, like me, you’re one of those people who find themselves at the mercy of the black dog from time to time, you know how crucial your connections can be.

So when things are a little better, when there might just be the odd ray of sunshine in your life, cherish your friendships, nurture your relationships.

Probably ditch the loincloth, too.

Not a great look.

Why you and I are like tiles in a mosaic

Consider one single tile in a mosaic.

Examine it closely.

Probably it is of just one colour, and has little in the way of texture.

Does it have beauty of its own?

Well, perhaps.

But where it truly comes into its own is when you gradually move your eye back from the singular to take in the plural, when you realise that this one small square of colour is actually a component part of a much bigger picture.


Some lucky tiles play important parts.

Perhaps they form the eye of some person represented in the mosaic, and since the eye of an observer is always drawn towards the eye of a picture’s subject, it’s their good fortune to receive more than their fair share of attention.

Others have seemingly less important supporting roles, making up a background or a piece of the sky.

However, it can be blindingly obvious when ancient mosaics have just a single tile missing, rather like the irritation caused by a computer screen with a dodgy pixel.

The truth is that every tile has a part to play, and it’s their coming together that turns a chip of clay or stone into something with great meaning.

I think that in some ways you and I are rather like mosaic tiles.

We may be able to exist reasonably well on our own, but where we really come into our own is when we’re part of something bigger than us.

How do we pull this off?

I think there’s one very simple strategy which is to focus on those who are closest to us.

Spreading warmth, goodwill and love to others is a pretty perfect way of feeling that you’re not alone.

It’s probably not easy to do so if you’re feeling down in the dumps—but perhaps that’s actually the most important time to give and therefore receive: to feel connected.

Are you sitting comfortably? Well, don’t always.

Over the past few months I’ve seen two excellent movies at Stanford about famous 1960s psychology experiments.

The first was about an infamous study performed right here—the Stanford Prison Experiment—and the second (last week) featured the story of Stanley Milgram’s spellbinding obedience study.

Experimenters asked participants to administer electric shocks to individuals in another room if they failed to give the correct answers to a memory test.

Most of the participants followed the order to shock the other person with increasingly high voltages, despite hearing what they believed were genuine sounds of distress coming through the thin dividing wall.

What they didn’t know, of course, was that the “victim” was in fact a confederate who was in cahoots with the experimenters, and actually receiving no shocks, just pretending to be in pain.

The movie (it’s called “Experimenter”) is a great reminder of the experiment’s conclusion that sometimes people can be persuaded to behave cruelly when they believe they’re simply following orders from someone they perceive to be an authority figure.


Talking about seeing the movie, though, gives me an opportunity to touch on the idea of stepping outside your comfort zone, which I actually did simply by going to the screening.

The event was put on by the Stanford psychology undergraduates’ association, and when they also showed The Stanford Prison Experiment movie, it was in a large auditorium with an audience of hundreds.

Although I didn’t know before I went to see it, the Milgram movie night was a very different kind of evening, held in a small lounge with an ordinary flatscreen TV and an audience of about 15.

Of course, it’s easy to get lost in a crowd, but you can’t do this when the number’s much smaller. I felt a bit conspicuous, especially because almost everyone else there was an undergrad.

However, people got talking before the movie began and I ended up chatting to the one other more senior person there (still decades younger than me, though) with whom I then caught up again last weekend.

So I’m glad I went, even though it felt a bit odd at the outset.

Perhaps a similar sort of thing happens to you sometimes?

You go to an event of some kind, but then get cold feet because it doesn’t look quite what you expected.

I know I’ve done so in the past.

However on the strength of my experience last week, I’m going to take more chances, even when the circumstances feel a bit different at the outset.

Often, different can be good.

The surprising truth I learned from a chimpanzee

A documentary project in the 1980s took me right inside the chimpanzee enclosure at London Zoo.

What an extraordinary experience.

Instead of being on the outside looking in, we were inside with a dozen or so of these delightful creatures, who of course are truly not that different from us.


After we’d taken photographs, their keeper suggested I might like to crouch down with arms open and sure enough one little guy jumped up and hugged me (lightly, fortunately).

It was a profound moment as I stood up with the affectionate chimp pressing himself firmly against my chest.

He was lighter than I would have expected.

Although I’m not especially an animal lover, I have to confess this was a moment I’ll never forget.

I know I was hugely privileged to have experienced it.

After this spot of human-primate bonding it was time for me to leave, so I lowered the little guy to the ground.

Then came the most poignant moment of all.

As the keeper and I prepared to head off, the little chimp was joined by one of his pals, and they padded off with their arms round each other.

I wanted to know what this might mean, and their keeper explained that they were sad that we were leaving, so were comforting one another to kind of say ‘it’s OK, I’m here – I care’.

Feeling that someone cares for you and about you can be a crucial factor in determining your overall state of mind.

Unfortunately it’s not uncommon if you’re going through a rough patch to mistakenly believe that nobody does: it’s a cruel trick your mind can play on you.

Perhaps we can learn from the chimpanzees, however.

One good way to feel others care for you is to care for them first.

Put your arm around them, and they’ll almost certainly reciprocate.

Tell them you love them and they (hopefully) will tell you that they love you too.

Maybe it’s a good day to show those around you how much you care for them?

You may get a pleasant surprise in return.

Three short emails you should send in the next five minutes.

Whether you’re reading this in the form of an email or on the website, right now you have a powerful tool in front of you which has the capacity to lift your spirits.

Connecting with people almost always makes you feel good, and what better day to feel good than a Friday?

It’s the end of the week and the world’s still revolving.


Here’s my simple recommendation for today therefore.

These days most email software is smart enough to guess the intended recipient as soon as you begin typing letters.

If yours does, I’d like to propose that you send a quick-out-of-the-blue email to one person whose name appears when type the letter ‘F’, another who pops up when you type ‘R’, and a third who shows up as you enter an ‘I’.

F, R, I for Friday.

So what will you say?

Well, I’ll leave that up to you, but three suggestions could be:

1. Just thinking about you, and thought I’d say hello.

2. How are you doing?

3. How’s Friday treating you?

Keep it brief, and don’t necessarily count on a reply from all three people.

But the chances are good that you and at least one other individual will experience an unexpected boost today.

And that’s got to be good for you, Francis, Rebecca, and Ian.

Or Fiona, Richard, and Isabel.

What happens to your mood if you shut yourself away to write a book?

Thankfully I wasn’t at Stanford University in 1989 when many of its buildings were severely damaged during what became known as the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

Among the badly affected premises was the West Wing of Green library, where I’m writing this now, and also where I shut myself away for a couple of months last summer to write “Nudge Your Way to Happiness”.

I spent that time in the wonderfully-named “Gentleperson’s Reading Room” (below), a calm space in which it proved pleasingly easy to focus and be productive.


Interestingly, I was tracking my own well-being through this period, and looking back at my graph I see that although I wasn’t doing badly, I wasn’t exactly soaring either.

With the benefit of hindsight I think I was probably suffering from a lack of social connections, a problem that resolved itself once I finished writing and began getting together with friends again.

Ernest Hemingway grumbled, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.” Who are we to disagree?

In last summer’s case it was an overly focused approach to work that left me feeling isolated, but at other times during my life I’ve seen the same effect arising from having a low mood, and maybe you recognise this in yourself?

You feel rough so you shut yourself away, perhaps even blindly self-explaining it by imagining you’re actually “saving” others from having to be around your glumness.

Of course, the honest truth is that staying at home alone could leave you feeling even worse than you already were.

Our connections with others are vital, as we’re designed as social animals and fail to thrive when we have insufficient contact with others.

Perhaps it will be worth remembering this as you go about the next 24 hours.

Why not look for opportunities, even miniscule ones, to connect with people?

By the way, many Moodnudges readers did just that with me on Wednesday, voting for a cover for “Nudge Your Way to Happiness”.

Thanks to all who told me what they thought.

I’ll let you know the outcome on Sunday, so see you in a couple of days.