What is the one thing that we all yearn for even more than money or health?
To connect and belong.
Whether you are the life of the party, or an introvert with a few chosen close friends, the need to feel connected is a huge part of what makes us human.
So essential in fact, even new born babies come into the world instinctively knowing how to bond.
And yet, modern life is all about speed over quality. We substitute superficial routines in place of true connection, meanwhile loneliness is growing into a silent epidemic.
A simple example: How many times in a day do you pass people and casually ask “How are you doing?” without waiting or listening for a real answer? I know I do a lot.
And when someone asks me this question, I give an automatic, chirpy “Fine thanks, and you?” Even when I’m on the verge of screaming from frustration, excited from a meeting gone well, ravenous with hunger or about to fall over from exhaustion…
It doesn’t matter what the feeling is: the reply is always “Yep Fine” with a quick distracted smile. Does that ring a bell?
Why do we do this? It’s certainly not because we want to lie about or dismiss our feelings. The reaction is too quick for that. Its more like a reflex- we are hardly conscious of any thinking behind it.
Was it always this way? Not for me…
Growing up, summer vacations were spent at my grandma’s home in Gobi (a rural village in India). We called her Ammatha, meaning “mom’s mom”. Every evening, Ammatha would help us wash up and pray, and then we’d all go and sit outside with the neighbors, to chat. That was the only agenda. Just chat. The late evening sky and the cooler breeze would mix with the comforting smells of dinner from each home (all main doors were kept open from morning to late evening hours). We kids would play with stones and sticks, making up stories and giggling over silly things, surrounded and protected by the elders as they talked. Our daily activities matched the natural rhythms of nature.
We ate at dinner time, slept when it was dark, and awoke with the sun.
Time moved slowly. All generations chatted with one another. People had mostly similar lives and spoke in person about their day. The good parts, the annoying or difficult bits, frustrations, worries, jokes…
You probably have had your own unique experiences of feeling alive and connected this way as well.
What if we could take a few simple things from those experiences and bring it into our lives in the here and now? Could we recreate some of that magic?
Over the past few months, I’ve been experimenting with this more and more. And I can tell you that it works. I still have moments of feeling lonely, but they are gradually becoming less frequent, replaced by real joy, of feeling connected and in tune with life.
So here are seven powerful tips to get rid of loneliness and feel alive.
1) Savor life’s simple pleasures:
Modern life is filled with more comfort and choice than ever before. And yet, we are more unhappy than prior generations.
Psychologists call this the “Paradox of Choice”, meaning that the fancier our options become, the less you will tend to savor the simple things, like the smell of barbecue from your back yard, a lovely breeze or time spent chatting with the neighbors as kids play and dinner cooks.
Solution: Create a routine where you consciously savor something throughout your day. Like your morning cup of coffee, watering the plant at your office desk, lazily snuggling with your kids on a weekend morning or the smell of the soap bubbles in the shower. Fill your heart with gratitude as your senses enjoy these simple pleasures.
2) Be present in this moment:
Life now is so busy, we are always worrying about what just happened or planning for the next thing. Research has shown that this kind of “mind wandering” is a big reason for sadness and depression.
If you find it hard to be mindful, a simple tip is to just bring your awareness to what you are seeing, smelling, hearing, touching or tasting in that moment. Fill your mind with sensations. For example: When you are in the shower, focus completely on the feeling of the warm water against your skin, the sensation of your joints moving, the smell of the shampoo or the feel of the soap etc; And whenever you catch your mind wandering off, just gently bring it back to your senses and the present moment again.
3) Eat together:
We are animals after all and sharing food bonds us in ways that few other activities can. Next time you and a friend want to hang out, cook for her and eat together. Even better, cook the meal together!
I began to grow a small indoor garden few months ago and it’s been so healing. To feel the soil and harvest your own vegetables, create simple wholesome meals using home grown ingredients, and share that meal with someone you love, is a powerful way to connect to your own humanity and with the world around you.
Even growing a tiny pot of herbs on your kitchen counter is a wonderful start. Try it today.
4) The Healing Power of Touch:
Ammatha would often pat us to sleep, telling us stories from old Indian folk tales while brushing our hair back. When I have a hard time falling asleep, those memories give me peace and calm. Touch can be incredibly healing when used kindly and with respect.
Reach out to hug your loved ones more, hold your child’s hands when you walk, kiss your elderly grandmothers cheek at your next visit or cuddle with your cat for a few minutes every day.
And as you touch, imagine your love flowing through your hands and into the other person. Even if you think it’s cheesy, just try it a few times. I promise you it will make a difference.
5) Spend time in nature:
I love the forest. The dark damp under growth, the lush greenery, the tall trees that create a canopy, all the weird insects and life that is going on undisturbed through time…makes me happy. Maybe you love the beach, or the mountains or gardening. Nature has many venues to create wonder and recharge your soul. As Carl Sagan said “We are all star dust”. All the world is just a collection of matter, including you and me. Everything is already connected.
Make time to be immersed in nature. Even if it is just laying on the grass at your local park or swimming at the nearby lake, you will feel your place in this immensely beautiful universe and feel rejuvenated.
We are in this journey together. Whatever difficulties you are going through, someone else is also experiencing. Whenever I am tempted to feel sorry for myself or feel loneliness, the thing that has helped is to serve. With no expectation of reward. Serve just to be of some help to a fellow traveler’s journey. Help someone cross the street, get a burger for that homeless person sitting in front of McDonalds, show a child how to make a bird house. Something. Anything. Each small thing creates connection.
7) Make eye contact and really listen.
So the next time someone asks you how your day is going, look at them and give an honest answer. If you notice someone is not having a good day, take time to truly listen. You don’t need to agree, provide solutions or even give advice. Just listen. Your unconditional time and presence is itself a beautiful gift.
Over to you: What are some ways you strive to connect more meaningfully? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions and learning from each other. Let’s connect