I remember the first time I watched this Ted Talk, I immediately liked her. She was using science to explain human connection and love. Maybe it is the psychologist or the geek in me but I'm only interested when there is a plethora of research and evidence to back up what is an otherwise interesting idea.
Although we have a hardwired capacity for intimacy, this does not mean that we all have the same capacity. Intimate relationships are more challenging for some than others. What makes Dr Fredrickson’s research so appealing is that it offers ways to strengthen our ‘connection muscle’ or increase our biological capacity for connection. She suggests that we need to increase the quality and quantity of our connections with others.
Some of her examples include: smiling authentically at another, hugging earnestly and making time for shared laughter. These are beautiful suggestions and one would be mistaken to assume we all experience them on a daily basis, because we don't. We have hundreds of social friends online but offline we may go weeks without experiencing one human-to-human, warm bodied hug. It is possible to share moments of connectedness without having to attend cuddle workshops. No, they are not seedy and yes, they do exist. They exit because we are touch-deprived.* We can increase the quality and quantity of our connections with others by becoming more aware of the daily opportunites that exist to do so and then begin to practice. Our relationships online and offline are very different, the way we relate is changing and it is important that we are mindful of how we are choosing to interact with others and understand if it is serving us or do we need to make some changes.
Dr Fredrickson briefly mentions putting aside distractions, however in our ever-increasing technology obsessed culture some of us may need support in discovering how to do just that. Reducing the amount of time we spend on our iPads or iPhones at home and in public can be challenging. I suggest we become more aware of how often we overlook potential moments to connect with others in favour of connecting with what Charlie Brooker describes - our black mirrors. In this era we need to make more of an effort to put down technology, make eye contact and smile at others, it's good for us and them, it's free and it feels so good.
Dr Fredrickson created her broaden-and-build theory to describe how positive emotions significantly shape one’s health and wellbeing. Her research suggests that by increasing the number of micro-moments of love or connection in our life, we improve our overall health and support our immune system. She considers these positive health behaviours as important as healthy eating and physical activity in supporting healthy heart function. When connecting with another, there are benefits for two people in terms of giving and receiving. We need to find these micro-moments every day and see them as an essential part of the magic in keeping bonds strong in all our relationships.
*Read more about the health and wellbeing benefits of touch at the Touch Research Institute, University of Miami.
Dr Barbara L. Fredrickson’s is a social psychologist and studies positive emotions. She describes love from a scientific perspective and details our physiological responses to micro moments of connection.