You’ve Got A Friend In Me: Social Connection and Mental Well-Being

It is difficult to know where to start on this topic….or to end. Social Connection is central to your mental health, to your level of happiness, and to your very survival! Period.

One of my many valued book purchases from a few years ago, was renowned psychologist Matthew Lieberman‘s  Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connect. The book ” explores groundbreaking research in social neuroscience revealing that our need to connect with other people is even more fundamental, more basic, than our need for food or shelter.  Because of this, our brain uses its spare time to learn about the social world – other people and our relation to them. It is believed that we must commit 10,000 hours to master a skill.  According to Lieberman, each of us has spent 10,000 hours learning to make sense of people and groups by the time we are ten.”

I just returned from a trip to Mexico with 6 friends. The entire experience was an living example of what happens in your brain and your body when you are connecting.

First, as a group, we did almost nothing but laugh! (If you are not already aware, search for the benefits of laughter and you will be inundated with references, including this one from Harvard’s Neuroscience Institute.) Laughter changes you (your skin tone glistens, your eyes brighten, your posture becomes more fluid), and it affects the people around you! We met so many special people who were staying at the same resort – some of whom I am still in contact with. I believe we met because of the wonderful energy I was carrying around from the interactions I was having with my group of friends.

Second, we had many opportunities for what my brother, Devin, calls “D&M’s” (deep and meaningful conversations). I have known most of these women for over 30 years, and I still learned something new about them on this trip. I was reminded of how much we have been through together (marriages, raising families, deaths, health scares, etc.) and I know that my life is all the better for having them in it. We’ve been there for the ups and downs, we’ve seen each other at our best and our worst, and we still care about and value each other.

Since I returned from the trip, I have reflected on how any relationship – from your marriage or partnership, to your co-workers, team mates, and even your children – all rest on the foundation of friendship. GoodTherapy.org defines Friendship as “a close association between two people marked by feelings of care, respect, admiration, concern, or even love.” They go on to outline some “common traits of friendship:

    • Some degree of commitment, both to the friendship and to the other person’s well-being.
    • A desire for “regular” contact with the other person. “Regular” contact could occur once every two days or once every two years.
    • Mutual trust, concern, and compassion.
    • Shared interests, opinions, beliefs, or hobbies.
    • Shared knowledge about one another’s lives, emotions, fears, or interests.
    • Feelings of love, respect, admiration, or appreciation.”
As I write this today, I am thinking of all of the other people I am so fortunate to call friends:
    • a beautiful human who was in a course I taught at UofW many years ago, and is now one of my dearest friends (we refer to each other as ‘healing sisters’…and we are…),
    • the participants in my mastermind groups – from my professional association and also from my local entrepreneurial community – who started off as a ‘business/professional’ group and quickly became so much more,
    • a co-worker from over 30 years ago, who I meet with every three months with regularity…
    • the people pictured above who are early-bird worker-outers like me…we get together a couple of times a year outside of the gym to add to our every day moments of connection as we sweat,
    • and so many more.

As I do with the ‘group of 7’ described above …. with my husband, children, and other family members …. I definitely commit to having regular contact with all of my friends. I trust, care about, have compassion for, and love each and every one of them. They nurture me, as I hope I do them.

I hope you also choose to commit to ongoing friendships! Sometimes, it might you who initiates most of the get-togethers and I know that can be frustrating. Remind yourself that each of those times of connection are an installment in your well-being bank and you (mind, body and soul) will reap the benefits for years to come!

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker, Author, and Organizational consultant, Deri works with organizations who want to create happy and healthy workplaces for increased positivity, productivity and prosperity!

Mental Health in the Workplace: Be Compassionately Curious With Yourself and Others

I had the honor of experiencing Dr. Gabor Mate for two days in a workshop on Compassionate Inquiry. I was riveted the entire time. This post features just a wee snippet of the opportunity we all have to increase our compassion for ourselves and for others.

Dr. Mate describes how we are all traumatized. He goes on to say that the essence of the trauma is not what happened to you, it is what happened inside of you as a result of what happened to you. If you were neglected as a child, the neglect is what happened to you, and the trauma is what happened inside of you as a result of that neglect (developing a belief that you are not worthy of love and being cared for, for example).

Part of his teaching was about how to treat yourself when you are triggered. Instead of trying to ‘fix’ that part of yourself that was triggered (i.e. when your childhood belief about your unworthiness appears in your adult relationships), you can be curious about what ‘combustible material’ inside of you was triggered. And this part is very important: when you are curious, you are not judging yourself – you are only seeking to understand that mechanism that resides inside of you. And to make friends with it.

“You are never upset about what you are upset about – it is always a trigger that goes way back. They are not new emotions.” says Mate.

Check out his Youtube video below, in which he explains the root of how we develop these mechanisms inside of us – and how we can develop a new relationship with them – one that is more compassionately curious.

One study Dr. Mate shared with us really stuck with me. It was a study in which mice were exposed to a certain smell and then simultaneously were given a shock. The mice began to associate the smell and the pain of the shock. After awhile, just the smell would bring pain to the mice – they became conditioned to associate the two. This part of the study makes sense – you have likely heard about other studies just like this one.

What was really interesting about this study is the next part … the grandchildren of these mice shudder at the smell – and they were never shocked! This conditioning was passed on through the generations. It is done epigenetically;  how the genes function are changed and then passed down through generations. The grand-mice are manifesting the experience of their ancestors – and, likewise, so do you.

When you are curious about the source of your experience, it will enhance your compassion – towards yourself and towards others. And when you are more compassionate and understanding of your internal mechanisms, you can begin to change your relationship with them (and interrupt the ‘auto’ response of the trigger). You, then, are able to make different choices when triggered – you can choose a different path, and have the opportunity to affect the future gene pool along the way!

Stay tuned for more in future posts…and check out more from Dr. Mate on Youtube.

Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker, Author, and Organizational consultant, Deri works with organizations who want to create happy and healthy workplaces for increased positivity, productivity and prosperity!

 

ENGAGE: Lessons From Death On How To Live Well

My older brother passed away on March 20. It was completely unexpected and way too soon. He was just 61 years old and fully engaged in his life.

At his Celebration of Life, I reflected on what I had learned from how he lived his life; and on how I could make some positive meaning from the huge gaping hole of sadness still present in my heart.

The morning of the celebration, I was not sure that I was going to be able to speak. While I wanted to share some memories of my brother, I felt nauseous and weepy, and unsure I would be able to pull it off.

At the last minute, I decided I wanted to do it…and no matter what…even if I was a blubbering mess…I was going to do it.

I am so glad I did.

My big brother taught me many things; mostly, he taught me to engage! Dene was a ‘yes-man’ in the last few years of his life. He was up for anything! If he was invited somewhere, he went. If he was sitting beside someone on the bus, he would strike up a conversation. If he attended a curling event, he would cheer loudly.

When I reflected on this gift from Dene, it reminded me of much of what I believe to be true about the pathway to living a good life.

I think that all of us – every human being – ultimately, wants to be happy. You already know that happiness does not come from outside of you…it does not randomly arrive, or not arrive, based on external factors. Happiness is an internal state, and is always created by what you choose to DO.

One thing you can do – like my older brother taught me – is to engage! What does it meant to ‘engage’. Very simply, it means that you:

  • choose to participate in events that are important to people you care about
  • jump in when you see a challenge before you
  • say ‘yes’ to a chance to help someone who could use it
  • connect with people you know, and also those you don’t
  • smile as you pass a stranger (and a friend)
  • do your best at work
  • ask for what you need in order for you to do your best at work
  • help others do their best at work
  • be grateful for the people who touch your life
  • let others know what you appreciate about them

I am so grateful that I chose to engage with Dene throughout his life, that I told him how much he meant to me, that I valued every moment we had together, that I laughed – and cried – with him, and that I chose to share my memories of him at his celebration.

Choose to engage. Notice how you feel. Repeat.