When we spend time with family, have drinks after work with friends, or even reconnect by phone with an old friend, we don’t need a scientific paper to tell us we feel great! Recent research by psychology professor Barbara Fredrickson shows that even casual positive interactions with acquaintances can cause a major lift in spirits. And the more of these little happy hits we get, the better. In fact, relationships are so important in positive psychology, they make up the “R” in PERMA (the model of thriving developed by Dr. Martin Seligman).
We know that spending time with people we care about improves our well-being, and yet some of us may need a bit of a nudge to break us out of our hermit tendencies.
Here is your nudge, in six parts:
1. Invite a co-worker out for lunch
If someone is new to your workplace, make them feel welcome by inviting them for lunch. Or maybe you have the kind of office where most people eat while working at their desks every day. Gather a group together and go out one Friday—sit in the sunshine and chat about anything but work.
2. Meet a friend for coffee
We all fall into ruts and routines; we tend to see just the same few people over and over—often just our families and co-workers. What about that friend you like but never get around to seeing? Give him or her a call and arrange a coffee date. Catch up on what’s new while strengthening your relationship. Facebook is great, but nothing beats actual face-to-face contact for staying in touch.
3. Host a dinner party
Sure, this is a little more ambitious, but you don’t have to be Martha Stewart to have a few friends over for dinner. Start small with perhaps just four or five people. Make as much of the meal ahead of time as you can, and be sure you have enough essentials on hand, such as napkins, chairs and silverware—preferably not when the party is five minutes from starting. If you don’t like to cook much, buy high-quality prepared food such as rotisserie chicken or cooked salmon from the market. Toss a salad, buy a baguette and some wine and you’re golden.
4. Join the club
Many studies, as well as anecdotal evidence, show that people who enjoy the sense of belonging and camaraderie you get from a group or community gain immense benefits in terms of well-being—even recovering more quickly after a stroke or other illness. It doesn’t matter if it’s a religious congregation, a book club, a sports team … getting together with like-minded people on a regular basis is good for your physical and mental health.
5. Go solo
Don’t let a lack of compadres stop you from hitting the town. So many restaurants now have counters or bars where you can comfortably sit as a single and watch the goings-on all around you. And even if they don’t, you have the right to occupy a table and enjoy a great meal as much as any family of six. Bring a book or tablet and read if you feel you need something to keep you occupied while you eat.
As for going to movies, plays or museums alone, for many this is the only way to go! Enjoy the entertainment and your own company, while at the same time putting yourself out there in the public sphere and inviting the possibility of meeting someone with similar interests.
6. Turn off your computer
The incredible conveniences of 21st-century technology are undeniable. Yes, you barely need to leave your house to buy pretty much anything under the sun. You can order up food to be delivered, and download movies right to your computer or TV. But doing so has a cost in human interaction, or lack thereof. According to research from the University of British Columbia, even so-called “weak ties,” casual interactions like the kind that occur at your local Starbucks or corner market, are important for social and emotional well-being. (This dovetails with Barbara Fredrickson’s research, mentioned above.)
Instead of buying something online, go to a bookstore or record shop. If a store is independently owned, you have a better chance of real interaction and recommendations from the people working there.
Get out there and be among the people!