Happiness Hack: Social Connection
Each quarter, our wellness team tries and reviews a popular wellness trend. This quarter, we're trying happiness hacks, and Morgan is trying out social connection.
“Wellness Tries” is a quarterly series where the GatorCare wellness team tries out and reviews different wellness trends, so you can see what might work for you! This quarter, we’re testing out various “happiness hacks” from Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book, The How of Happiness. In Lyubomirsky’s book, she claims that 50% of our happiness is determined by our genetics, 10% is determined by our circumstances, and 40% is determined by our thoughts and actions. The happiness hacks. These strategies are research-supported methods to increase happiness levels to help us max out that 40% we can control.
Our team chose this project back in January when life looked very different. Most of us started our hacks before the pandemic hit hard and continued our experiments into our current shelter-at-home situation. While the implementation changed quite a bit over the course of our hacks, we all agreed that the focus on increasing our happiness could not have come at a better time.
This week, Morgan is tuning in to her social network and spending time nurturing her relationships.
Social Connection & Happiness
Studies show that happy people are exceptionally good at maintaining their relationships and, in turn, are more likely to have a large circle of close friends, a romantic partner, and strong social support. This produces more positive emotions, which then helps to attract more and higher-quality relationships; it’s a positive-feedback loop.
When I selected this strategy, I envisioned catching up with friends over walks and workouts, brunch and happy hours. Then a pandemic hit. Although this completely changed my strategy for connecting with my social network, it also made it more important than ever.
Here’s how I tackled social connection during social distancing.
The biggest underlying theme for this hack is making time, and, fortunately, I’ve got more time on my hands than ever before. When thinking about implementing this hack, I decided to focus on two areas: my partner and basically everyone else.
Since at least 90 percent of adults will eventually marry, Lyubomirsky spends a good chunk of time talking about improving romantic relationships. However, her approaches can really be applied to any relationship, be it with a romantic partner, a friend, or even a pet. In her book, she cites John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, as “the best marital advice manual on the market by far.” As someone on the precipice of getting married (#coronabride) and a self-proclaimed overachiever, I immediately went out (pre-pandemic) and purchased this book.
Lyubomirsky presents a four-week activity based on a seven-week activity from Gottman that aims to help couples increase respect, value, and admiration for their partner. In true over-achiever fashion, I opted for the full-on seven-week activity straight from the source. This exercise is meant to create a habit of proactive admiration and fondness, something that naturally begins to fade over the course of any relationship. Each day, Gottman poses a positive statement followed by a task. The intent is to think about the positive thought throughout the day while you and your partner are apart (jokes on them, we’re never apart…). In some cases, the thought may not seem to apply, especially if your fondness has dimmed. The goal is to think of a single instance or episode where the statement applied and focus on that memory. This activity can be completed alone or can be done with your partner. To my partner’s utter joy (sarcasm, he’s not exactly a “sharer”), we did this activity together. Essentially we read the prompt, took a moment to reflect, and then shared with each other.
Thought: My partner has specific qualities that make me proud.
Task: Write down (or share) one characteristic that makes you proud.
This activity has broken up the “groundhog” day experience of sheltering in place and has not only provided entertainment but also enabled us to connect in a deeper way. It’s allowed us to relive and savor some of our favorite pre-pandemic moments and our overall relationship journey thus far, which has been really fun. It’s also opened up a dialogue that might not have naturally occurred, around things like shared beliefs and values, things that make you proud about your partner, times you felt supported, etc. We’ve been completing the exercises after work each day so it’s also served as a transition between work life and home life.
I would recommend this exercise for anyone in a romantic relationship, married or not, pandemic or not. For those looking for more details, I’m sure a quick search for “Gottman Fondness and Admiration” will turn up a good starting point.
My initial goals were to select a few people to reconnect with each week and come up with creative ways to spend time. Then a worldwide virus hit. Obviously, the implementation changed because of social distancing restrictions, but the general principle remained the same. Here’s what I’ve done so far and the lessons I’ve learned on the way.
As our team transitioned to working from home, I realized just how much joy I get from the mini-moments of connection throughout the course of a workday with the people on my team. How I long to hear about last night’s dinner or commiserate over traffic while waiting for the coffee to brew! Our team almost immediately implemented a morning check-in via Zoom. The intent, as a highly collaborative team, is to check-in on the status of everyone’s projects, but it has also served as a way to create those mini-moments of connection. Sometimes we even create themes for the day which has broken up the monotony: wear crazy makeup, put on fun earrings, glam up the hair. We also regularly connect over text to share pictures of our lunch, dinner, coffee (we’re basically food-obsessed), the animals we see on our evening walk, etc. It’s definitely infused some fun into our day in a way that doesn’t detract from productivity and has been a great buffer to the loneliness that can creep in during social distancing.
With friends and family
Just like everyone else, I’ve been experimenting with various ways to keep in touch with family and friends. On the plus side, it feels like there’s more time to devote to this right now. I’ve primarily been checking in via text, FaceTime, and group video chats. What I’ve learned: I prefer smaller group chats to larger ones, which can be hard to create real connection. Previously, I preferred texts to calls, but find myself now craving the sound of someone’s voice, so I have been doing a lot more calling. It didn’t make sense for me to keep a structured list of “here’s who I want to check-in with this week” as I had originally planned, so I transitioned to checking in with folks as it made sense, i.e. “I just finished Narcos; let me check in with my friend who watched it” or “I haven’t talked to mom in a while; how is she doing.” I haven’t been super creative on this front, sticking to pretty standard mediums, but I do have friends who have hosted game nights and even karaoke virtually. Will I make it to that level? We’ll see what the future of shelter-at-home brings!
Social connection is a natural craving for humankind. In my experience, this craving has been amplified by the current state of things. This experiment allowed me to slow down and appreciate the relationships and support that I have in my life. It gave me the opportunity to grow those relationships in deeper ways and gently nudged me to proactively engage with my support through this season of uncertainty. When it came time to retake my happiness assessment, my score remained the same. But, I firmly believe that leaning on my support network has acted as a buffer, working against any of the negative impacts this crisis could have had. For that, and for the wonderful people that fill my life, I am very thankful!
Celebrating and tending to your social relationships is more important than ever. Fortunately, many of us have more time and mental space to do so right now. So express your admiration, find ways to spend virtual time together, and stay in touch!