Does social connection help us feel happier?

In our modern world, people are often conditioned to believe there is a quick fix to happiness.  Many of us look to achieve specific goals with the idea that achievement will make us happy. We often look to the next step in our lives, then the next. We might think that our next move will finally allow us to achieve lasting happiness. However, data tells us a different story.

Many experts in cognitive science agree that social connection is the key ingredient for happiness. And actually, fervently pursuing achievements that we think will make us happy, such as finding the perfect job or perfect house, can actually impact our social connectedness and leave us feeling unfulfilled.

Social connection is also important for our cognitive health. Having conversations and connecting with others stimulates our brains, exercising our attention, executive function, memory, and social cognition skills. Strengthening these skills can help us to feel confident and capable, and excited to connect with others more!

The importance of social connection

We can see the value of social connection from a young age. However, when we think of social connection, we may think of our direct circle, our friends and family. Other types of social connection can be significant sources of positivity as well.

This has never been more apparent than during the pandemic. Experts say that even small social interactions with strangers, like a friendly conversation with a cashier while we buy our groceries, have a very positive impact on our emotional well-being. Social distancing during the pandemic left people without these small but significant interactions, and the emotional impacts of that were felt by many around the world.  With this in mind, here are a few of our top tips to increase happiness through social connection.

Strike up a conversation

According to behavioral psychologist Nicholas Epley, people often feel hesitant to speak to strangers. For example, someone next to them on the train or in line at the post office. People fear being judged or having an unpleasant experience in this situation. However, according to his research, the interactions are usually very positive, and people who make conversation with the people around them are almost always happier in their lives. People underestimate the power of this kind of interaction. 

You don’t have to go out of your way to make this happen. Asking the cashier how their day is going, or asking the person seated next to you on the train what they do for a living could actually turn into a truly positive experience. And believe it or not, making a habit of this can increase your happiness in the long run.

social connection

Make time for friends

While this was often done remotely over the pandemic, finding a way to talk to friends on a regular basis can have positive results on our mood. Prioritizing connecting with friends in our free time, rather than a solo activity at home such as watching TV, can lead to an overall improved sense of well-being.

Listen to podcasts

A study actually found that listening to podcasts can contribute to fulfilling our need for social connectedness. Of course, nothing beats face-to-face interaction. Podcasts cannot take the place of true social connection. However, listening to a likable host discuss a topic that interests you can contribute to a sense of connection and a more positive outlook on life. These days, there are podcasts on pretty much every topic you can think of, so there’s something for everyone!

Pick the social option more frequently

Many people, especially introverts, feel drawn to foregoing social events and simply staying home instead. However, Nicholas Epley’s research found that the results are the same for introverts and extroverts. Both are happier when they experience social connections on a regular basis! While it can be tempting to stay in, pushing yourself to be a little more social can result in increased happiness.

Social connection is more important than we might think, and many experts say it’s the main component of a happy life. Striking up a conversation, making time for friends, listening to podcasts, and choosing to go to social events are a few ways that you can incorporate more social connection in your life and feel happier day-to-day.

Aly Castle

Aly is HappyNeuron Pro’s Content Specialist. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and loves utilizing her design background to share important cognitive information clearly and understandably.

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