My cat, O’Malley, has a unique way of connecting with family members, our friends, or anyone else who spends more than a few minutes in our home. He makes himself scarce while people are milling about, but when we all settle down into our favorite lounging position to connect and converse, it doesn’t take long for him to emerge. He has his own way of connecting, and it has nothing to do with conversation. He generally saunters in and positions himself in the middle of the room. He sits and then surveys the situation, perusing for the most willing lap to plop himself in. The first person to make eye contact with him, however briefly, is “it”. At that point, there is no chance of escaping our home hair free.

We are created for connection. We suffer without it. Many of the clients I have worked with, who struggle with depression, tend to live in a state of isolation, rather than connectedness with others. This is not healthy. Feelings of hopelessness and loneliness, along with suicidal thoughts increase when connection decreases. Often, all it takes is a brief positive interaction with someone else on a daily basis to consistently elevate mood, and infuse more hope into your thought patterns. The research is clear that social connection is critical for helping us to live happier, healthier, more productive lives. Yet, many people go days without making more than brief eye contact, and the connection that follows, with others. Felines are notorious for being loners and aloof to human companionship. Yet, O’Malley constantly reminds me that if a cat craves connection, how much more we human beings need to connect with one another. So, what’s keeping us from connecting with others on regular basis?

There are many mental blocks that prevent people from reaching out, such as fear of rejection, low self-esteem, or a lack of social skills. Those barriers, while severe for some, can be addressed with proper support and a skilled helper. A contributing factor to an increasingly disconnected society, that appears to affect just about all of us, is, in a word, technology. The next time you are around others; in the office, on the street, the subway, a bus, a public event, even in your own home, look around. Chances are, more people will have their heads down, and their eyes locked on a little screen held in their hands, rather than locking eyes with you. If you do happen to make eye contact with someone while you’re scanning the scene, pause and smile. That’s connection.

Hope whispers, connect with someone today.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my computer (I’m typing my blog on it right now), my smart phone, and social media as much as the next gal, and it is one way to stay connected with others, but when it takes up so much of my day that it replaces real time conversation and connection, I’m headed for feeling lonely, not loved. Being in the mental health field, I often become concerned at the escalating correlation I witness between depressed clients, and their extensive use of technology. A healthy life is about balance, and as a society, we seem to be losing equilibrium when it comes to actual interaction vs. virtual interaction. We all have the same basic need as human beings, to feel loved. It’s one of the most primitive pulls we have. Yet, our sensitivity to the need for it gets dulled by too much technology. A computer cannot hug you. Nothing replaces the power of positive human touch – to read more about that, you can read my March 19th blog: http://voiceofhope.net/blog/entry/the-power-of-a-hug

I am grateful for the ways technology keeps me connected to loved ones who live far away, but face timing doesn’t compare to face-to-face time with the people who mean the most to us. Last week, I took a vacation, and returned to the town where I lived for nearly two decades. It had been a few years since I had seen many of those with whom I shared a sense of community during my 18-year residence there. Several days of sharing life, and all the laughter, tears, hugs, story-telling, and events both planned and unplanned it brought in real time, satisfied a craving for deep connectedness that several years of posting, tweeting, and skyping couldn’t gratify. Lots of people are talking about the power of connection. Even Oprah recently acknowledged the healing power of social interaction, and addressed it in her, “Just Say Hello” campaign. To read more about that, click here: http://www.oprah.com/health/Just-Say-Hello-Fight-Loneliness 

I know people who have gone on technology fasts for a week, a month, or longer in order to increase their real time relational connections. None of them report regretting it. For you, it may be challenging enough to go a few hours, or a whole day, technology free in order to free up your energy for face to face pursuits. That’s okay. Do what you can. My hope is that in reading this, you might choose to connect just a little less through technology on a daily basis and a little more through real time interactions. Then assess your mood. Do you feel more hopeful? Happier? Fulfilled?  

Try it today. Silence your phone. Power off the computer. Then seek out someone. They may be sitting in the cubicle right next to you, sleeping across the hall from you, or standing in line behind you at the store. Find them. Make eye contact. Flash a smile. Offer a hug. Speak a word of encouragement. Connect. Both the giver and the receiver will reap benefits that beat any record of likes on Facebook. Even on your cat’s page.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the power of connection by posting your comment below.