While deciding what the topic should be for the last Brainy newsletter for 2015 I found myself asking, “What really matters at this time of year?”
Christmas is a time for sharing. We exchange gifts (hopefully ones we appreciate and like) we spend time at end of year work functions, cocktail parties and brunches. We have family get-togethers with distant family members we only see (or want to see) at this time of year.
Above all it is a time to connect.
Humans are so very good at connecting with others; it’s in our nature. Despite our material world creeping in luring us with the thought that all we really want is the latest widget, gizmo or toy, what really counts is our face-to-face connection.
When we are busy thinking hard, working on the next assignment, project or task we’re engaging our mighty forebrain, the prefrontal cortex. But in between those busy times our brain switches gear and starts operating using what’s known as our ‘default network.’
What’s going on when we are in default time?
Rather than just being a time of aimless mind wandering, this is when our social thinking comes in to play. We start thinking about others, what they might be thinking, feeling or saying.
Why has evolution led us down this path? Because human connection is what makes us happy, and we most happy when we know we are making a positive difference to someone else.
Which is why we volunteer to help out with a Christmas dinner for the homeless, why we buy a gift for a child who might not otherwise receive one, and why we donate money to charities to provide clean water or medical supplies to those in need.
Our social ties are as important to our survival as food, safety and shelter. Yet we live in a world of increasing disconnect; where community spirit has dwindled. Social clubs are finding it harder to find new members. We live next door to people who we don’t know, never see and have no connection with. We communicate increasingly using our technology, rather than taking the extra couple of minutes to speak to someone face to face.
So what are some ways to boost our social connectivity?
It’s easy to take things and people for granted. Let’s step out of our busy thinking to notice and acknowledge those small acts of kindness performed by others. Expressing gratitude to our friends, our family and colleagues can be something as simple as saying ‘Thank you.’
Open your eyes to the world.
We are surrounded by instructions we don’t see. On the crowded bus, the notice that says ‘This seat is reserved for the elderly’ is disregarded until we choose to see what or who is in front of us. When we are absorbed in our social media or listening to our favourite music – we become essentially blind to what is going on around us. So look up, look out and see our world.
If you’ve arranged to meet someone for a coffee, switch off your phone or at least have it on silent. Rather than spending time taking more selfies, sending texts or creating Instagrams why not enjoy the real experience of where and who you are with right now?
Practice compassion and loving-kindness.
There will always be those with whom we don’t see eye-to-eye, those we can’t stand to be around or who hurt our feelings. Practicing loving kindness is about feeling compassionate towards others and ourselves, which when we are angry or upset can be hard! None of us are perfect, so if we can accept our imperfections and be kinder to ourselves, it promotes greater tolerance and understanding of others.
It’s not always easy to connect or make new friends. We might feel shy or uncertain, that’s normal. Putting on your best, most beautiful smile that starts with your eyes and allowing yourself to be open and curious is a great way to start.
How do you intend to connect this Christmas?
What will you be doing differently to boost your social brain and your happiness quotient?
What will you do in 2016 to nurture your special friends and relationships?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Thank you so much for following my weekly musings on how we can all build a higher performance brain. This brain is now taking a much-needed break. On behalf of all of us at the Brainy Headquarters, we would like to extend our very best wishes to you all for a very happy, relaxed and connected Christmas.
As a special gift for you, here is the Expect More in 2016 e-Book. This is a compilation of great articles written by a number of thought leaders for you to enjoy and share with others. Every year my good friend and colleague Gihan Perera collates these articles. They provide some great reading and lots of ideas on how you can get more out of the New Year to come.
You can download your copy here.
All the best and see you in 2016.