What Matters Most for our Mental Health? Each Other
Do you want to know the secret to a healthy and happy life? The science isn’t very complicated. According to this NPR story, it’s other people:
If people could change one thing in their lives to be happier, what should they choose, according to the data?
WALDINGER: They should invest in their relationships with other people. We found that the strongest predictors of who not just stayed happy but who was healthy as they went through life – the strongest predictors were the warmth and the quality of their relationships with other people.
SHAPIRO: Does it matter whether we’re talking about friends, spouses, coworkers, other kinds of relationships?
WALDINGER: It doesn’t matter. We get benefits from all of those kinds of relationships, including the person who makes our coffee for us in the morning, including the person who delivers our mail. We get little hits of well-being in all these different kinds of relationships.
But there’s more. Consider this. Ben Miller points out in his newsletter last week this puts the onus of correcting what has become a societal problem of loneliness on to each of us as an individual. What if we looked for larger solutions?
Arguably this is important, and often the type of work that occurs in therapy, but there had to be more done at a societal level to help. I dipped into the science – found out a ton of good articles – and then starting talking to friends about the topic and why more wasn’t being done about it and what we could do.
Let’s create more “kletskassas”: Kletskassa is a Dutch word that literally translates into “chat box.” Jumbo, a Dutch supermarket, decided to actually do something about all the people who were coming into their stores looking for connection. They created kletskassa, which were a different type of check out line where people who were looking to chat could do so without being rushed by the person behind them.
This is antithetical to the world we live in, where supermarkets are more likely to be understaffed and push us to self-checkout, and we are all in such a hurry that we’re fine with it. We don’t recognize the opportunity to connect during these little interactions. As Ben points out, even something as small as writing someone’s name correctly on their coffee cup makes us feel seen and gives us a little shot of connection. How many little differences could it make if coffee shops built that into their training? Take the time and get the customer’s name correct, even if there’s a long line.
Yeah, I doubt it too.
Still, there’s nothing stopping each of us from looking for and acting on these opportunities. They matter. Being connected to each other is better for everyone’s mental health and happiness. It can bring a tiny bit of joy into what otherwise might be a dull day.
To return to Ben Miller, I agree with this advice.
Send a note to someone you have thought about. Send a text. Make a phone call. Bake some cookies and mail them. These small, simple acts can go a long way in helping someone feel less lonely. Do it daily. It will benefit them and benefit you – that’s the science of helping out.
I’ll admit I’m not good at this. If I get better at anything this year I hope it’s this.