Dave Smallen is a research psychologist and community faculty at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN. His work focuses on researching and communicating about how people cultivate connection and well-being in relationships, families, and community. He earned a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies from University of Wisconsin-Madison during which he conducted research as an affiliate of The Social Interaction Lab in the Department of Psychology at University of Minnesota. His research can be found in academic journals such as the Journal of Family Psychology and the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
Social Connection Matters: And There are Many Ways to Connect
Some of the most meaningful moments of everyday life are those spent connecting with others.
Moments of human connection matter, because our everyday social interactions weave together over time into the larger fabric of our relationships – with family, friends, and community – and quality relationships are key to well-being throughout life.
People connect in both ordinary and extraordinary moments, with close others or strangers, in-person or online. Research on social connection shows that there are many ways we might interact to feel connected – here are a few:
What people often think of when considering moments of connection are heart-to-heart conversations – what researchers call emotional intimacy, when we disclose personal, often vulnerable, information about ourselves and respond to each other with understanding and care. By sharing intimately, we of course get to know one another better, yet we also build trust by demonstrating that our vulnerability is safe in each other’s hands.
Helping each other out is another common way of connection – either through practical support, such as running errands for someone; or through emotional support, such as hugging someone who feels sad. Studies show that both giving and receiving support can help us feel connected, so long as the support we offer effectively matches the support others need.
We also connect through shared positive experiences, especially when we laugh together. A rush of mutual joy or hilarity actually releases hormones that help us bond. Shared laughter also shows us that we see the world in a similar way, as we must have a similar sense of reality to both get the same joke.
Finally, simply expressing affection or gratitude, through words or gestures, has been shown to facilitate connection. Even giving others our sincere attention when they turn to us is a powerful way to express care.