Strong social relationships: the new frontier of wellbeing 

In the last few months, I have been thinking a lot about the power of social connectedness for health span. And I wanted to share my own story with you about how I came to recognise its importance of building strong social relationships. 

Moments of connection 

A couple of years ago I had everything dialled in. I slept over 8 hours almost every night; I only ate sweet treats 3 times a week. I did a daily 10 min meditation and exercised 5 times a week. My recovery was spot-on, and I had a fortnightly massage. I was crushing it. 

And yet something felt off. I just wasn’t feeling as happy as I thought I should. 

One morning I was walking in my local woods with my dog, Kami. We walked past a family, with two toddlers, who approached Kami wanting to stroke her. Having checked with their parents, I asked the kids if they’d like to give Kami a treat. I showed them how to feed her by holding out my flat palm to her mouth, and then placed little chicken treats in their hands. One by one they both held out their little hands and she gently took the treat. The kids looked up at me and joy flooded their faces, and they stroked Kami again before rushing back to tell their parents what they’d done. 

The look of joy on their faces stayed with me for the rest of the walk. Seeing their expressions and the brief eye contact was a warming feeling. That little spark of connection between me and them, and them and Kami was a beautiful moment. 

That chance meeting was an epiphany of sorts for me. I realised this is what was missing; moments of connection like this one. As a result, I vowed to myself to notice and appreciate these opportunities more. The rest of the stuff is important, but real human connection is what matters. 

How to cultivate strong social relationships 

Here are a few tips to get you started – and feel free to share this with anyone who is interested.  

Examine your values 

Values in this context are the code you live by. My value statement is to ‘live truthfully, considerately and to suck the marrow out of life’ (to paraphrase the poet, Thoreau). What about you – what are your values? 

Uphold your integrity 

Having integrity is doing what you say you’re going to do and above all, honour your values over other people’s expectations of you. This is critical. How will you demonstrate your integrity? 

Determine your priorities 

Prioritisation is determining where your time and energy will go. Does this match up with your values? 

When we focus on values, integrity and our priorities, we are in a better position to connect with others and develop better social relationships. Better social relationships, both in a professional and personal sense, enhance feelings of belonging, connection, and psychological safety, and they can be life-extending.