It’s all about the people in our lives. But it’s sometimes so hard to remember this… and to nurture authentic face-to-face relationships in our modern era of Facebook, texting, and individual thinking. Many of us believe we can forge ahead on our own, finding happiness without a community behind us. It’s much easier to get a quick fix of other people online, iPhone in hand, instead of calling a friend on the phone, stopping by someone’s house, or actually making conversation with people in a waiting room.
We can have our online presence, though, and even our thoughts, possessions, habits, and goals… but still not get it right. We can even accomplish our dreams. But if we don’t have people, what good are all of those things? Getting to the top of the mountain is no fun when we find we’re the only one up there.
Many moons ago, when I was heading off to college, I was very nervous about making friends. I was determined to do well in my studies and keep myself organized, but I also wanted to have a social life. I remember my (now ex-) brother-in-law gave me this advice: You don’t need friends, Domi. People just get in the way of what you want to do. Go to class, go to work, study hard, and you’ll get where you want to go.
I’m ashamed to say his advice sounded a little too enticing to a young introvert headed off into the wild unknown. As a result, I kept my head down, moved coolly and swiftly through my days, knowing that I had a purpose far greater than inane frat parties and student mixers. I was more important than that, my foolish ego told me. I was going to graduate in three years with my bachelor’s degree in communications, and then I was going to either get a job or head off to graduate school. I had everything planned out. I was single-minded in my goal. I was busy.
I was an idiot.
And… I was alone. I didn’t make any friends. I dated but never really felt close to anyone. I didn’t go to parties or movies. I was a college student automaton. My college years were three of the busiest–and unhappiest–of my life.
As I grew in age and wisdom, I began to realize that people make me happy. I began to see that ignoring other people was lonely work and that losing my faith in people was, essentially, losing faith.
People are what make life worthwhile. Your partner, children, parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, friends, and even the people ringing you up at the grocery store… These people are the reason we’re here. They are the face of love in our life, the ones who nurture us, support us, sustain us, and energize us. They give us their ideas and help our ideas flourish. They connect us to the rest of the world, they tie us to the divine, and they make us feel truly human.
It’s not about success or material possessions. It’s about the people you surround yourself with that matters.
5 ideas for spending more meaningful time with others:
1) Do small good things for others.
Lots of places around town need a helping hand. And the giving you do will be nothing compared to the rewards you receive for building connections with others. Helping out in any capacity–planting flowers in front of your church, carpooling for the school field trip, working in the food pantry, or even just baking cookies for an elderly neighbor–will not only help get necessary jobs done in the community but will also keep you involved in a personal way with the world around you.
In relationships, it’s not all about me. And it’s not all about you, either. Being social means, of course, some of your needs get met. But the way to feel your best is to do good for others. Think of small things to do for the people who cross your path that can make a difference in their day. This will put a smile on their face and on yours, too.
2) Set dates for lunches with friends.
Getting together with friends is something every individual should do. One-on-one interactions are an important step in helping you realize your own voice. And spending time with another person is a great way to learn about the world through their lenses. True conversation with people on an individual basis can help us understand not only the person in front of us eating a grilled cheese sandwich but also the rest of the world.
The best thing about spending time with people individually is you can more easily see yourself in them. We’re all made of the same fabric, but the same hand.
3) Go out every day and talk to people.
Not every social interaction has to involve soul-searching discussions with long-time friends. Sometimes, you can simply talk about the weather with the clerk at the Dollar Store. Sometimes a simple interaction can make you feel connected to the world around you. So smile, make eye contact, put your iPhone down, and strike up a conversation with that person waiting in line behind you. You’ll find you’re happier when you crawl out of your own head to see what’s going on in the lives of others.
4) Drop the habit of being “busy” long enough to realize people are the only thing that matters.
We’re all so busy doing things we need to do. But if we really look at our schedule, might we find that some activities are unnecessary? Checking Facebook 15 times a day, for instance… Couldn’t that time be better spent calling one friend for 15 minutes? Shopping can be another time waster since sometimes we’re out looking for things we don’t really need. Instead of searching for the perfect color of towel for the guest bathroom, maybe we can just have some guests over who don’t care what color the towels are.
“Busy” is an epidemic in our culture. It seems we’re all hiding behind the word, fearful of interacting socially with others. If we’re busy, if we have no time, then of course we could never pick up the phone or set up a dinner date with a friend. If we’re busy, we have an excuse. Unfortunately, we feel we’re getting away with something when we can work harder and hit the hay without ever having gotten the mess of other people on our hands. Instead, we’re only hurting ourselves.
5) Appreciate everyone, regardless of everything.
We don’t always get along with everyone. Some blame it on chemistry; some blame the other guy. Whatever the reason, know that we can learn something from just about everyone we come into contact with. And we should never miss an opportunity to learn. That’s why we should be grateful for everyone: both dear friends and loathsome enemies. We hear all the hype about ‘avoiding negative people,’ and that’s good advice to a point. But the part they don’t tell you is to forgive those you don’t agree with and get along. You don’t have to spend your vacation with them; but you do have to love them.
Every person has a story to tell. Every person was created from the same source you were. Every person deserves your positive thoughts and respect. Even if you don’t agree with their lifestyle. Even if you don’t understand their language. Even if they don’t understand yours. With an attitude of gratitude for every person on this earth, you’ll be able to climb down from your tall, tall mountain and have more friends, thereby making your own life happier.
How do YOU keep yourself connected to people? Please share your thoughts and give us more ideas for how we can get out in the world and spread the love.