Having an active social life in which you surround yourself with friends and family is one of the most important Pleasure Principles that I write about in my book. Studies have shown that feeling a part of a family, circle of friends, and community (e.g., workplace, religious, social, or political—the presidential election is already in full swing) throughout our lifetime helps stave off depression and, of course, loneliness, while keeping our minds vibrant. There is also some evidence that spending time with others can even increase our longevity.
Our closet bonds are usually with our immediate family and friends. If we were reared in a stable home environment with at least one caretaker who showed us love and nurtured our feelings of self-worth, we have a better chance of forming healthy relationships during childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
With that foundation, we’re more likely as adults to find compatible partners and create an atmosphere of trust that carries over into building our own family. It also helps us bond with coworkers, should we have them, and grow our circle of social relationships. This network of connections with a variety of people helps us move beyond focusing on our own needs and wants to identifying with a larger community that strengthens or sense of self.
When this extends into our religious or spiritual life, it can help define our moral center and give our lives purpose. This has been universally true across history and cultures, with family and tribal identity providing a healthy sense of self and purpose, not only for humans but for other social animals such as wolves, dogs, elephants, and our closer genetic relatives, the great apes. The need to connect is literally in our chromosomes.
If we don’t receive the nurture we need in childhood, and especially if we were abused, neglected or have a predisposition to develop a mental health disorder or addiction, we often develop a lack of trust in ourselves and others as adults. This makes it more difficult to build that network of family, friends, and community that provides the support and well-being necessary for a fulfilling life. We’re more likely to turn to mood-altering drugs, compulsive sex, gambling, and other addictive behaviors to create a false sense of contentment that is missing in our everyday lives. One reason that Twelve Step peer recovery programs have been successful is that addicts learn to mend their broken connections to the peoples in their lives, which produces a healing of their spirit and provides them with the pleasures and highs that come with giving and receiving care and help from others.
There are many ways to meet and connect with others as there are people. It depends on our interests and personality. Sometimes you have to summon the courage to try new things that can expand your vision of who you are and give you a sense of belonging. This includes developing a scientific spirit: if something doesn’t work the first time, learn from that experience and try something else. It might even mean going outside your comfort zone, which can add a new and exciting element to a life that has become boring and routine. Whether it’s meetups, book clubs, bridge games, fantasy sports, or volunteer groups, make the effort to make a connection.
About the author
Jodie Gould is an award-winning writer and author of nine books. Her new book, HIGH: Six Principles for Guilt-Free Pleasure and Escape (Hazelden), will be released on April 28. Her articles have appeared in Woman's Day and Family Circle, and she wrote a monthly column for Showtime.com. Gould has been interviewed on numerous TV and radio shows, including Oprah, CNN, and Extra.