Beyond the simple fact that meaningful connections make us feel good, they boosts our overall health and wellbeing. But how is a meaningful connection defined and how can we create more of them?
Without deep social ties, it’s easy to become dispirited, uninspired, and unempathetic — we’re communal-by-nature creatures who deteriorate mentally, emotionally, and physically if our social needs aren’t met. After all, we’re each defined and supported by others to some extent. Meaningful relationships make life a happier, more fulfilling experience. We feel purposeful, motivated to carry on through tough times, inspired when we see other people as good, and we desire to be good people ourselves. Forming healthy, meaningful relationships is therefore both crucial self-care and a happy way to make society better as a whole.
So, What Makes a Connection Meaningful?
It’s the quality of our connections that so heavily influences our mental and emotional wellbeing. Think about the person who describes feeling lonely in a crowd. You can be technically connected, but if you’ve gotta feel deeply connected to experience the full benefits of strong social ties.
A relationship can take many forms, from family and friends to romantic partners and mentors. Ultimately, the value of our relationships is subjectively ours, varying from one person to another. There is no universal standard of meaningfulness between people, but many of us enjoy similar ways of deepening our relationships, enjoying meaning and purpose, and experiencing authentic connections.
To give an example, social media helps many people reach out and connect to others. When those relationships are exclusively confined to a screen, so is the joy you experience from the connection. Getting likes from friends and followers feels good, but virtual hugs just don’t pack the same punch as the real deal. Digital connections don’t really scratch the itch we all have for meaningful interactions. Forming a meaningful connection with another person requires engagement, empathy, and exchanges that strengthen your bond. It takes genuine attention and effort to break through superficial boundaries and to grow together through life’s ups and downs.
How to Have More Meaningful Connections
When two people engage with each other in a way that’s more than just superficial, their relationship almost always feels more meaningful. These are some examples:
- An Honest Talk that Breaks Down a Relationship Barrier For parents, discussing past experiences can be especially meaningful, particularly if it relates to an issue or circumstance that’s relevant to an existing challenge. Among colleagues, opening up about challenges, past and present, help you empathize with each other and come up with innovative solutions. Maybe you hurt someone carelessly or made a mistake that’s haunting you. Share your experiences honestly to increase the empathy and understanding between you and gives your relationship the kind of attention, respect, and trust it needs for you to grow closer together.
- A Shared Love for Songs, Cinema, or Stories People love the arts for how they evoke our feelings from this air. Almost everyone has a song, poem, novel, movie, etc. that they love for how closely it relates to their perception of life. Coming together over a shared love for a specific work of art, such as a movie that hits the nail on the head about growing up with a dysfunctional family, connects good feelings, like the joy of feeling understood, to a real-life relationship. You create a shared experience that staves off feelings of loneliness and isolation long after the moment’s over.
- Philosophical Chats What better way to form meaningful relationships than by talking specifically about what life really means? Your favorite people have learned lessons about life and experienced it in ways that are often completely different from yours. Imagine chatting over coffee, explaining your perceptions and learning about the big stuff from the point of view of someone with a potentially helpful perspective. Invite these conversations, so you can break through superficial boundaries and internalized stories, and engage on the kind of level that’s genuinely and deeply personally fulfilling.
Why Meaningful Connections Matter
Beyond the simple fact that they make us feel good, meaningful connections boost our overall health and wellbeing. Social connections can influence our long-term health in ways equally as substantial as proper diet, adequate sleep, and not smoking. There are dozens of studies to show that friendships keeps us happier, healthier, and alive longer.
Though this might not be true when the in-laws overstay a visit, close social ties work on a biological level to relieve harmful forms of stress. Some studies have even suggested that caring behavior triggers the release of stress-relieving hormones. This matters because dangerous levels of stress can be harmful to the immune system, gut function, insulin regulation, and coronary arteries. In other words, relationships boost our resilience and help keep stress from wearing us down.
It’s also important to note that social isolation is a serious health hazard that is not only damaging to the individual but to society as a whole. Loneliness has been shown to increase stress levels, which can lead to poorer sleep, a compromised immune system, and even cognitive decline. Not only that, but it can have a profoundly negative impact on your mental health. Being isolated causes us to turn inward, which over time can lead to feelings of depression, disassociation, and can also diminish our capacity to feel empathy. We need face-to-face relationships in our lives for the sake of our mental, emotional, and physical health.
What’s Holding Us Back From Connecting
Before a genuine connection can form, it’s important to realize not every part of a relationship is on our terms. It requires us to show ourselves to others and accept others for who they are. Letting ego drive our actions, for example, is isolating behavior that damages our connections.
Another hurdle for many in the modern era is our reliance on technology for communication. Social media, texting, and phone conversations place a layer of separation between people, which can inhibit attachment and enforce superficial boundaries. Face-to-face interaction, patient listening, empathy, and demonstrating acceptance are all important experiences that feel less superficial when we have them in person.
Creating More Meaningful Connections in Your Life
When you give people an authentic, one-on-one view of yourself, you’re giving them a reason to reciprocate and show themselves to you in turn. This creates a familiar bond that, over time, can grow into something healthy, helpful, and above all, meaningful.
- Be Helpful to Your Neighbors Something as simple as helping to carry groceries or turning down the tunes earlier in the evening demonstrates your willingness to be a positive, supportive force in their lives.
- Take Interest in Others’ Activities If you notice a particular project or hobby someone is working on, give them a chance to talk to you about it, and ask questions that let them know you’re truly listening.
- Engage in Deeper Conversations It doesn’t necessarily need to be the deepest subject — it’s more about embracing people when they share their genuine selves so you both feel engaged, heard, and connected.
- Find out What Kind of Friend You Are Your strongest social skill determines how you show up for your friends and family. Everyone has a social superpower, and our friends at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center put those skills in four distinct categories. The Friend Superpower Quiz helps you understand your social strengths and pitfalls, then gives you the ways you can show up better in your relationships.
Loneliness can’t be quantified. Isolation is as much a feeling as a reality. Notice how you’re showing up, and try to engage with others in ways that leave you feeling socially strong more often. It’s one of the best ways to boost your health — all it costs is a little presence.