Read an Excerpt
In the Human Moment
Life is loss. For all we gain, we also lose--a friend, a day, a chance, finally life itself. To oppose the pain of loss, we use a human glue, the force of love. The force of love creates our many different connections. This is what saves us all.
If you think about what you live for, what really matters to you, you usually think of some person or group of people -- maybe your spouse and your children, maybe a friend. Or you might think of an institution you give your all to, or your work, or a set of ideals.
These are all different kinds of connection. To thrive, indeed just to survive, we need warmhearted contact with other people. The close-to-the-vest, standoffish life is bad for your body and your soul. Like a vitamin deficiency, a human contact deficiency weakens the body, the mind, and the spirit. Its ravages can be severe (depression, physical illness, early death) or they can be mild (underachievement, fatigue, loneliness), but they are certain to set in. Just as we need vitamin C each day, we also need a dose of the human moment -- positive contact with other people.
We know we need food, we know we need vitamins and minerals, we know we need water and air, clothing and shelter. Most of us even know we need sunshine. But most people don't know that a major other factor belongs on our list of essentials: one another. This is not a warm-and-fuzzy proclamation. It is as scientifically proven as is our need for vitamin C. Only here the C stands for "connection."
Don't confuse connection--feeling a part of something larger than yourself, feeling close to another person or group, feeling welcomed and understood -- with contacts. Don't confuse connecting with networking. Sure, every businessperson benefits from many contacts and a full Rolodex. And sure, networking is a good way to develop opportunities.
But at the same time, contacts can overrun your life like wild-flowers; they may be pretty, but they can suffocate important growth. Networking can distract you from your primary goal, as "opportunities" these days pop up like weeds, everywhere you look. The Internet is full of opportunities, all vying for your time. You can spend so much time networking, contacting, and surfing the Net that you forget what you're networking, contacting, and surfing for. One deep connection to a person and one properly executed business strategy are worth much more than a bevy of contacts and a frenzy of networking and surfing.
Luckily, the kind of positive connection we really need is available in all our lives. My experience as a psychiatrist, the experience of physicians in all medical specialties, and an abundance of solid scientific data all prove the enormous benefits of connection in daily life. But many things get in the way of people reaping these benefits, stumbling blocks like too many daily obligations, or shyness, or time, or fear.
You can step past those obstacles and strengthen your connections in a variety of practical ways, which this book explores. The benefits of connection will repay you many times over. Meaning, satisfaction, intensity, pleasure, ease from pain -- the benefits we yearn for -- are all to be found in various forms of connection.
I see the need to connect frustrated everywhere I go. Traveling the country as a lecturer or traveling the aisles of the local supermarket 2as a shopper, I feel people's desire to connect, as well as the pressures that prevent them from doing so. "I'll catch you later, OK?" "We have to get together sometime!" "I can't believe how long it's been!" People want to connect, but they are just so busy. People want to reach out, but they feel too hurried to do so, or too scared.
And yet their lives depend upon it.
In the Human Moment
It is only recently that researchers have proved the lifesaving value of connection. Among those who gathered the quantitative scientific evidence that now confirms the importance of connection, Dr. Lisa Berkman stands out. Before her studies, skeptics insisted that connections might be "nice" but were not powerful enough to affect basic biology.
Dr. Berkman showed otherwise. Now chair of the Department of Health and Social Behavior at the Harvard School of Public Health, she was the author of the groundbreaking Alameda County Study, published in 1979. This study followed the lives of some seven thousand people in Alameda County, California, for nine years. To measure the effect of connection quantitatively, Dr. Berkman and her team surveyed the people to find out the specifics of how they were connected or not connected. They found out whether the people were married or lived alone, what kind of contact they had with friends and relatives, whether or not they belonged to a church or other religious organization, and how much they participated in voluntary organizations and groups.
Armed with this information, Dr. Berkman then looked at the people's risk of dying over a nine-year period. She found that the most isolated people were three times more likely to die in that nine-year period than those with stronger social ties. Never before had death itself been proved to be linked to social isolation or lack of connection.
The protective value of connection showed, under statistical multivariate analysis, to be present at all ages. The people surveyed in the study were of ages thirty to sixty-nine; a statistical advantage of living longer was enjoyed by the highly connected group at every age. Even in the presence of health hazards such as smoking, obesity, alcohol use, poverty, poor use of health services, and poor health at the start of the study, people who had strong social ties lived significantly longer than those who did not.
To gain the benefits of connection, it didn't matter what kind of connection a person had. For example, you could live alone, but have frequent contact with friends or relatives, and be protected. Or you could belong to various voluntary organizations, but not participate in any religious activity, and still be protected. Or your connection could come from church and family, but not from any volunteer organization, and you would still be protected. The key to gaining the benefits of connection was to have several kinds of connection, but the kinds could vary from person to person. The people who were in the most danger of dying were the 10-15 percent who were most isolated. This study has been replicated about fifteen times now in other parts of the United States and around the world, including Sweden, England, and Finland.