Comfort levels vary, but there's always room to grow
Some of us are more comfortable in social situations than others, but researchers have shown that regardless of where you fall on the extrovert/introvert continuum, you can expand your social network and improve your connection skills.
This is very good news.
Why should you care?
Researchers in psychology and brain science—such as the work on emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman and work on positive emotions by Barbara Fredrickson—are finding more and more correlation between our neurophysiology (i.e. “our hardwiring”) and our emotions or feelings. This has led to fascinating conclusions about the basis for happiness, and there is now no doubt that our capacity to connect meaningfully with others is tied very closely to our happiness and sense of well being.
Psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson have done fascinating work cataloging character strengths that contribute to a happy life and are protective in times of trouble. They found that interpersonal virtues such as gratitude, kindness, and capacity for love—all elements of strong interpersonal connections—are much more strongly tied to happiness than virtues such as curiosity and love of learning. (See reference and books below by Seligman and Peterson).
How can you expand your social network and cultivate connection skills?
Here are several activities you might enjoy, even if you're an introvert. They can help you expand your social network, increase your chance for connecting with others, and practice your social connection skills. You might even have fun at the same time!
- Join a special interest club or class. Whether you love to knit or hike or go spelunking or listen to Mozart, there is a club or class for it. Community colleges and parks and recreation departments often have a surprising array of offerings. You're sure to meet others who share your interests.
- Get outside. Whether you're walking through the neighborhood, walking your dog, pruning your hedge, or watching the birds, you have a chance to greet people you pass and possibly strike up a conversation.
- Get some exercise. Join an aerobics or yoga class at a local gym. Ask around to see if anyone else at work wants to walk during lunch.
- Volunteer. The bonding that takes place when individuals come together for a common cause is very special. Find a cause or nonprofit about which you can feel passionate, and enjoy meeting others who share those feelings.
- Explore a faith community. Psychologists have found religious people to be among the happiest. They believe it is greatly because of the strong connections they make within such a community.
- Join or form a parents’ group. This can be a neighborhood group or something related to your children’s school. Meeting other parents gives you a chance to connect and reach out to others who might appreciate sharing their concerns and fears. Grandparents can form groups too!
- Invite someone. Ask someone to meet you for coffee or a meal. Invite them over for tea. If you’re more comfortable in a small group, invite a few people over so there are more people to carry the conversation. If the idea of calling people to do this is too daunting, find someone who is more outgoing than you are and tell them you’d love to host a little gathering at your house if he or she will make the calls.
Have you ever tried any of these and found them helpful? Are there other connection strategies that have worked for you and you’d be willing to share? Please leave a comment below.
Don't let shyness or lack of experience deprive you of meaningful connections in your life. Start right now and get better at connecting. Your happiness might depend on it.
Peterson, Christopher, and Martin E. P. Seligman, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. American Psychological Association & Oxford University Press. New York, 2004.
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