So what does this mean for us in our daily lives?
This means that even the smallest of interactions, which we have with each other on a daily basis, can be an opportunity for important growth and development. When we are kind and good to each other, we can have an impact that is not just psychological and feels good, but physiological and neurological. The quality of our relationships are not an added extra or something to be thought lesser of; in a very real physical sense, they are a matter of life and death. Herein lies a wonderful opportunity to do real good in our world, knowing that our actions and consequences matter and are we are very important for each other. It is also worth noting that we feel these benefits when interacting with animals too, which makes sense, considering how many people have pets and treat them like a member of the family.
What can we do? In one word, connect
Walking down the street
When you see someone walking down the street towards you, challenge yourself and say hello to them and smile, especially if you do not know them. This may be a bit difficult and make you feel temporarily awkward for a few seconds, but what usually happens is that they say hello back and smile and you will get a short but very noticeable feel good feeling. This is your brain firing the feel good chemicals that are great for your health, and so will theirs! What a wonderful easy way to look after each other. And even if they do not talk back or even smile, your brain knows you have made the effort and will begin the physiological response.
Be aware of the limitations of technology
This is a very important insight that the Harvard study found: the brain did not fire the chemicals when people talked on the phone or engaged with any form of technology. The brain seems to be clever enough to know that if you see someone on a screen video call, that screen is not the person, you are speaking to a representation of that person. So social media, phone and video calls are brilliant for connecting, but for the long lasting health benefits, it is face to face human interaction that we are hardwired for. If you can get some hugs in, even better!
Daily acts of kindness
Here is another chance to re think how important kindness is in our daily lives. Think about this: if you find ways and means to help others and be kind each day, you are actually increasing the chances- on a very real physical level- of benefitting and improving the lives of not only yourself, but every single person that you come into contact with. Remember, the study found that it was quality relationships- both with close loved ones and ordinary everyday social interactions- that was the number one cause of a healthy, happy and long life. When you allow the importance of this to sink into your mind, you will never see kindness, or any good deed that you do ever again, as unimportant. Every kind deed counts. You could be making the difference and saving someone’s life: both in their number of years and the years within their numbers.
Interestingly, I’ve found in my work with people over the last 10 years- both adults and children- that we all want to be affirmed so badly. We want to know that someone cares for us, that we matter. And now we can see why, when we are treated as such and cared for, both our bodies and those of the ones who affirm us, receive psychological and physiological benefits. So try this, the next time you are with someone who is upset, just be there with them. Listen to them and resist the urge to solve their problems. Allow a warm space to open up between the two of you and the silence within to simply say, I understand and I’m here for you. That is often all that we want when we are in our need. For anyone who doubts how powerful and incredible doing this is with no words needed, just try spending just one minute with a dog who is happy to see you- you are will feel amazing straight away!