A woman and her fiancé are joking and laughing together while playing video games after a long day.
A freshman interrupts the verbal harassment aimed at a neighbor, who expresses his gratitude as they walk home together.
A man receives a phone call to confirm a date and falls into a deep, personal conversation about racism in America with the stranger on the other end of the line.
Each of these scenarios was recalled by a research participant as a moment of meaningful human connection. The meaning of belonging and emotional security with family, friends and communities is built through real interactions. As these examples suggest, these connections can take on different shapes and sizes. Often small and fleeting and sometimes powerfully memorable, moments of connection happen with loved ones and strangersin person and on line.
I’ve spent the past few years exploring moments of connection as psychology graduate studentwith a particular eye on how people experienced a meaningful connection during the pandemic. It’s not just a small bonus for forging those connections; they have real benefits.
Feeling well connected to others helps to Mental Health, meaning in lifeand even physical well-being. When loneliness or isolation becomes chronic, the human brains and body suffer, straining a person’s long-term well-being at least as much as major health risks such as obesity and air pollution.
Researchers know which types of behavior reinforce feelings of social connection. Here are four ways to connect.
1. Heart to heart
For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when asked about meaningful connections is heart-to-heart conversations. These are key moments of emotional intimacy. One person opens up about something personal, often emotional and vulnerable, and in return another person communicates understanding, acceptance and caring – what researchers call reactivity.
For example, I could tell you about my current experience of becoming a new father, sharing complex and precious feelings that I would not divulge to anyone. If I perceive at this moment that you truly “understand” what I am revealing to you, that you accept my feelings as valid, whether or not you can relate to them, and that I matter to you, then I will likely feel a sense of closeness and trust.
In emotionally intimate moments, personal sharing is often reciprocal, although a sense of connection may arise. whether you are the one opening or providing the responsiveness.
2. Giving and receiving help
One of the main ways to connect people is to give and receive support. There are two types of social support that often feature in connection moments. Instrumental assistance contributes concretely to the practical aspects of a solution. For example, if you bring me groceries when I’m out of shape, we’ll bond through instrumental support.
Emotional support nurtures the feelings of others. If you would come by and give me a hug when I’m stressed, that would be emotional support.
In any case, your actions are reactive: you understand my situation and by acting you show that you care about me.
While it might not be surprising that you feel connected when someone offers you responsive kindness, it also works the other way around. Support others builds that sense of connection, especially if you sincerely want to help and feel your help is helpful.
To be effective, however, you must meet another person’s needs rather than your own idea of what they need. Sometimes that means offering emotional support to help another person calm down so they can tackle their own problem, despite your own desire to step in and solve the problem for them.
3. Positive vibes
Vulnerability and support are no joke, but meaningful interactions don’t have to be dark. Research shows that people gain a sense of connection by experiencing positive emotions together. And that feeling of connection isn’t just in your mind. When two people share this kind of good vibe, their bodies also coordinate. They sync, with simultaneous gestures and facial expressions, and even biomarkers such as heart rate and hormones moving in similar patterns.
Human beings rely on these positive, synchronous moments as a basic connecting force from early childhood, and people continue to seek synchronous interactions throughout life. Think of enjoyable activities like singing and dancing together – these are embodied forms of connection that actually release endorphins that help you feel connected. The same applies to laugh togetherwhich comes with the bonus that a shared sense of humor suggests a same sense of realitywhich improves the connection.
When someone tells you about a positive event in their life, a reliable way to bond is to speak to them sincerely and enthusiastically. respond to their good news: celebrate, congratulate, say “I’m so happy for you.”
4. Affirmative Expressions
Those moments of letting people know how much you appreciate, love, or love them can be brief but powerful. express and receive affection and Acknowledgement are particularly well-documented means of connection. Frank expressions of affection can take the form of direct verbal statements, such as saying “I love you”, or physical expressions, such as holding hands.
Imprecision and imperfection
Connection attempts can be complicated by two people’s individual perceptions and preferences.
Humans are not telepaths. Everyone’s sense of what others think and feel is at best moderately accurate. To feel connected, it’s not enough that I really understand you or that I care about you, for example. If you don’t perceive me as understanding or caring when we interact, you probably won’t leave feeling connected. This is especially a problem when you are alone, as loneliness can lead you to view your interactions more negatively.
Each person also has different preferences for the means of connection that more reliably help them feel connected. Some people enjoy talking about their feelings, for example, and may be drawn to emotional intimacy. Others may only open up to those they deeply trust, but like to connect more broadly through humor.
Of course, not all interactions have to be meaningful moments of connection. Even well-bonded infants and caregivers, in this most vital relationship, are in an observable state of connection. only 30% of the time.
Connecting moments don’t have to be extravagant or extraordinary either. Merely turn your attention to others when they want to connect brings great relationship benefits.
Gaining insight into different ways of connecting can allow you to practice new ways of engaging with others. It can also help you to simply pay attention to when those moments already exist in daily life: Savor moments when you feel close to others – or even simply recalling such events – can reinforce that feeling of connection.