Creative Commons/Spirit-Fire

Creative Commons/Spirit-Fire

Top Talker: Do You Practice THIS Important Life Skill? (POLL)

We’re talking socialization today because at our core, humans are social creatures. We cling to our mothers at birth. We count on our families, and when we can’t, we make friends our family. We make friends at school in college, and at our jobs. We have families of our own. We join clubs and organizations. We want our families and friends to surround us on our deathbeds.

And, yet, we are sliding downhill when it comes to engaging with other people. This article in SFGate talks about a significant, but little-discussed health risk: loneliness. The article mentions a study where 20 percent of all individuals are, at any given time, unhappy because of social isolation.

Part of the reason we’re getting bad at socializing is because of the American notion of independence that makes us not want to appear needy, says Jacqueline Olds, a psychiatrist who teaches at Harvard Medical School and co-authored The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century. She also discusses what she calls “the cult of busyness.” People feel they should always be accomplishing something. They work long hours and then, in their limited spare time, they work more—catching up on e-mail, doing the laundry, going to the gym.

Socializing is last on the to-do list—if it makes the list at all. “Everybody thinks that socializing takes time and effort, but it pays off. Socializing is energizing,” says Olds.

In general, we are happier when we are engaged with people. I found this out (again) last weekend. I took my daughter to a birthday party expecting to just exchange pleasantries with some of the other partygoers. The next thing I knew, a very casual conversation with one woman became an interesting discussion about gardening and composting. We are both former teachers and we live in the same neighborhood. I’m not saying I made a new BFF, but I left feeling more spiritually full than when I entered the party. That’s the power of social engagement.

As much as I enjoy using social media, I wouldn’t have engaged with her had I kept checking Facebook or sending out tweets. Social media has its place, but there is no way that a smartphone or a computer can replicate good, old-fashioned human contact.

Related: Our Story Begins: Are You Tethered to Technology?!

Being social is not as easy as it once was. A few generations ago, we were far more likely to know many of the people in our neighborhoods and heavily participate in our communities. Society isn’t set up to encourage real intimacy with other people, which means we have to work harder at being social and find opportunities where before we didn’t have to make an effort. Here are three things we can do to have more fulfilling relationships with people:

  • Be sincere. Most of us can spot a phony a mile away. I think our life experiences train us to look out for people who are putting on airs or presenting themselves as someone they are not. We all feel more at ease with people who speak and act from the heart.
  • Be interested in others. This sounds like a no-brainer, but there are people who behave like they think they are the center of the universe. It’s hard to endear people to you when you go on about yourself, your life, your interests, your family—never or rarely asking others to talk about themselves, too.
  • Be neutral. This does not mean you can’t have or voice strong opinions, but when trying to build a real-life social circle, being dogmatic will turn people off. Also, you never know who you’re offending when you rail against conservative Christians or attack people who eat meat, for example.

Related: Raisin’ In Minnesota: Do We Have To Take Sides When Friends Break-Up?

Since our health can depend on how we socialize, we should make an effort to do it whenever we can. Even something as simple as calling an old friend you haven’t actually spoken to in months or years can make a difference.

On a scale of 0-5 (0 meaning “I’m a lone wolf” and 5 meaning “I’m a social animal”), rate yourself on how social you are. Social media doesn’t count! Take the poll and then share your thoughts about social engagement.

[polldaddy poll=”7889200″]

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Alexis Trass Walker lives in Gary, Indiana, with her husband and four children. She is managing editor of Good Enough Mother. Read more about Alexis on her blog or follow her on Twitter @LillieBelle5. You can email her at alexisnw16 [at] gmail [dot] com.