Our world recently lost a generous soul. Rona Abramson was an educator, humanitarian and philanthropist. She also led the Women’s Wing of the Transcendental Meditation Movement, an effort that provides practical tools, wisdom and support to millions of vulnerable women and children in countries worldwide. Rona invited everyone she touched to discover the greatness within themselves and each other, and she demonstrated how genuine human connection nourishes individual and collective wellbeing.
The Global Wellness Institute Board of Directors and Advisors has sponsored the May Wellness Moonshot Calendar in memory of Rona, and we hope her example will help you realize the power of connection in your life and leadership. Use these ideas during May and beyond to foster health and wellbeing for your coworkers, your family and yourself.
The Power of Connection
Our need to feel connected runs deep—so deep, in fact, that affiliation is deemed among the core motivations of human existence. As pastor and poet John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island.” Most of us want to bond, befriend and belong as much as we want to exercise personal autonomy.
Not surprisingly, evidence shows that our connections empower (and erode) our wellness habits and wellbeing. Our friendships, peers, families and social networks influence our weight, happiness, smoking habits, exercise, risks of depression and suicide, brain fitness, heart health and much more. Workplaces built on harmonious, productive relationships are linked to lower stress, greater happiness, emotional attunement and social coherence, peak performance, and healthier lifestyles. The crossroads of relationships and health is, in fact, opening new avenues for science, such as biosocial research and interpersonal biology, as well as new models and methods for advancing health and wellbeing at work and in society.
We can also learn much from the wisdom about connection already hardwired into many cultures. The African tenet ubuntu suggests, “I am because you are.” And the Danish idea of Hygge refers to the wellbeing created through our sense of connectedness and belonging.
So how can we build connections that inspire effective results, human potential and wellbeing?
Take These Actions for Empowering Connections
As the leader, experiment with these actions to grow empowering connections at work, at home, and in your community:
- Use every meeting to plug in. Add a brief mindfulness practice to the start of team meetings and family get-togethers. Try out different forms—conscious breathing, loving-kindness meditation and body scan are a few. Allow the mindfulness practice to help everyone slow down, even for a few minutes, to reconnect with a deeper vitality within.
- Tap into awe. Invite coworkers, friends and family to share awe-inspiring pictures: Take a look at Cardiff University’s video of the marvelous wiring of the human brain or get immersed in the sound of this flash mob playing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Let the connection with awe do its magic in your group’s outlook, creativity and mood.
- Invite people to plant seeds of positivity. This could include offering a kind word to a peer, complimenting a customer, asking a vendor for their valued opinion, calling an old friend just because, opening the door for a stranger, or reaching out with compassion to someone that seems alienated. The gain is in the act of connection itself, yet you never know how these seeds of positivity will grow and amplify!
- Let shared purpose lift you. A shared purpose is more than a statement to hang on the wall. It is your collective reason for being—a powerful connecting force that answers the question, “Why are we together?” Gather your team or family to explore your purpose as a group, and more importantly, why it matters. Better yet, ask each person to share how they connect with the group purpose personally.
- Commit to a culture of care. Take steps to build a culture with the values of trust and psychological safety rather than fear and mutual learning rather than perfection. (These 15 insightful questions can help you get started.) Embrace communication practices where people are respected, valued and heard; where teammates can express different (even challenging) viewpoints; and where the contribution of every person matters.
- Assess the top five. Are your top five connections in life and work nourishing? According to research by Dr. Amy Banks, relationships influence wellbeing through at least four neural pathways: the vagus nerve feeding your stress response; the anterior cingulate gyrus relating to social pain; mirror neurons, which help you naturally read other people; and the dopamine reward system, which provides a feel-good boost. Complete Dr. Banks’ assessment to explore how your five most time-intensive relationships influence your biology and wellbeing and ask people in your team or family to do the same. Be ready, however: What you collectively discover is likely to spark powerful dialogues about designing relationships for wellbeing.
- Reconnect with what enables you to be well. Do you need more rest? Clearer priorities? A mental wellness day away from work? More time in nature? As the leader, your health and wellbeing are intertwined with others; when you take care of your self, you naturally extend an invitation for others to more deeply connect with their vitality, too.
Share Your Commitment
Take a picture of you and others, at work or home, making a commitment to build healthy connections. Post it on social media with the #wellnessmoonshot tag, and we’ll spread your inspiration to others.
Resources to Help You and Your Organization:
- No Man Is An Island, Poem by John Donne
- The Art and Neurobiology of Connection: The Leader’s Challenge, Kerfoot, KM. (2011)
- Social Networks and Health: Models, Methods, and Applications, Valenta, Thomas. (2010)
- Engineering Social Connection & Community, Global Wellness Summit
- Mind & Life Digital Dialogue, Ubuntu
- What It Feels Like to See the World from Outer Space, TEDxSkoll
- 15 Questions for Building a Culture of Wellbeing & Care, GWI Wellness at Work Initiative
- GWI Digital Wellness Initiative