A recent study by the University of California, Berkeley, found that (positive) feelings of connection encouraged people to – in their words – “do good”. One experiment found participants were more likely to volunteer for a charity after reading words such as ‘community’ and ‘relationships’ than those given neutral terms, such as ‘lamp’. Another test concluded that “just thinking” about a close connection would improve someone’s altruistic behaviour.
This article reminded me of the latest Art on the Underground project ‘Acts of Kindness’ which shares people’s small but altruistic acts towards strangers on the London Underground. These stories range from carrying bags to handing in a lost camera to this:
“I think you smiled at me a few stations ago”. Such was his opening line. I cringed at being chatted up in the packed and silent carriage, but as the train hurtled on, something softened. By the time he alighted, he’d won me round. Turns out humanity abounds in the most anonymous of places. A lesson we’ll tell our children: it only takes a smile.”
Many acts of kindness are also small acts of connection – an acknowledgement of the individuality and humanity of a stranger. Of course, a smile will not always lead to a conversation but a moment of connection can be more significant than we might ever realise; particularly if that person is feeling lonely.
People suffering from loneliness often report feeling marginalised in or excluded from mainstream society, and the stigma that many people attach to loneliness can accentuate this further.
So you may get a few odd looks but the return of a smile (and their acknowledgement of you as a person worthy of recognition in turn) will cancel any of these mildly awkward moments out. And why not take these little actions of connection a step further? Action for Happiness suggest we should ‘Get to Know Your Neighbours Better’ to improve our own happiness.
Citing research by the Young Foundation (which found higher reported levels of wellbeing in areas where people have “regular contact” with their neighbours) they believe that simply saying hello to a neighbour can have a big impact on the security and happiness of both.
So connecting with people will benefit our own mental and physical wellbeing but can also benefit our wider community. Do you have any small acts of connection that you would like to share with us? Please use our brand new comments function (see below!) or tweet us at @EndLonelinessUK.