Social Connection

دوره: The Science of Well-Being / فصل: Stuff that Really Makes Us Happy / درس 6

Social Connection

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I don't think with Marina Keegan, but some of you probably know her famous essay on the Opposite of Loneliness which I think kind of nicely shows the power of this social connection. He notes that, look, close ties with people - having a social connection is good for all kinds of health related stuff. This is some work by Margaret Clark who's the head of Trumbull college here and a professor in the Psychology department, and she just asked if the act of being around somebody can change your very subjective experience of good and bad events in the world.

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But first, I’ll tell you about the second thing and the final thing for today that seems to make us happier than we think, and that is this phenomena of social connection. Just being around other people makes us happier than all the things we do to worry about our problem sets and worry about all that stuff. Like, it seems to matter a lot more than we think. And here, we have a wonderful Yale example, I think, of the importance of this. I think a couple of you mentioned this in your comments about kind of being socially connected which is great. You guys didn’t overlap. I don’t think with Marina Keegan, but some of you probably know her famous essay on the Opposite of Loneliness which I think kind of nicely shows the power of this social connection. So, she writes in her, one of her final YDN pieces, she says, “We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when I leave this place”. And she goes on to explain this just like at Yale, we have these “We’re full of tiny little circles we pull around ourselves”. And she’s graduating at this point, and so she says, “We won’t have those next year. We won’t live on the same block as our friends. We won’t have a bunch of group texts”. She also goes like, you know, we won’t have the hat party. We won’t have all this stuff. She kind of goes through this, and she notes, “This scares me not having this more than finding the right job, or the right city, or the right spouse. I’m scared of losing this web in this elusive, indefinable opposite of loneliness”. What’s great about this is I think Marina is hitting upon what a lot of the research is saying. It doesn’t matter if you find the right job, or the right city, or the right spouse. But if you lose this feeling of the opposite of loneliness that we feel here so much at Yale, you are going to lose out something in terms of your own happiness because it turns out, this wonderful thing that she talks about at Yale, this thing that we have at Silliman, and that we have like all through the things at Yale can just to show off all happy Silliman photos. This kind of connectedness does seem to matter much more than we think. And so, how do we know this? Can we actually do some studies where we look at social connection? And this is another thing that lots of positive psychologists have looked at. They’ve just tried to measure. Again, take this insight like, okay, let’s just look at happy people and unhappy people, and ask like what are the differences. It’s not salary. It’s not the stuff, but it turns out it is, it seems, social connection. Just how much do you hang out with people that you’re close with? And so, Myers has looked at this and found a bunch of things in his lovely review on this topic. He notes that, look, close ties with people - having a social connection is good for all kinds of health related stuff. It can actually make you less vulnerable to premature death. So, if I look at whether or not you’re going to die, if you’re an elderly person, you have more social connections, you tend not to. It can make you more likely to survive a fatal illness like cancer or heart disease and so on. And it makes you less likely to fall prey to the sorts of stressful events that mess up your life. All kinds of health consequences to social connection. But there’s also all kinds of happiness consequences too, at least when you look at who’s happy, who’s unhappy. And this is what Ed Diener and Marty Seligman did. They kind of divided people up into those who were happy and those who were unhappy, and then, they tried to look at those people’s ratings of their own quality of social relationships. And so, here’s what they find. There’s folks who were very unhappy or very happy. So, the two sides of the scale. What you find as you look at their number of close friends, very happy people have more. If you look at the number of strong family ties, very happy people have more. And even if you look at the number of romantic ties, things like marriages and stuff, very happy people have more and have better ones. Right? You can also look at this if you have people rate their daily activities. Just how much time do you spend by yourself and with your friends, and when you look at that across very unhappy and very happy people, what you find is very unhappy people spend more time alone and very happy people spend more time with family, friends, lovers, all stuff. So, merely just spending time with people can allow me to predict whether or not you’re going to be happy or unhappy. But here’s the question, is this really the case? Can we kind of intervene on people’s lives, give them more of close social connections, and increase their happiness? And so, this is what researchers have tried to do, not even in the context of the best sorts of social ties you might think, not even in the context of like true friendships of the kind we showed in those Silliman pictures. What about kinds of interventions I can do in really strange circumstances like a bunch of strangers around you? Can you increase your social connection with those folks, and does that increase your happiness and your positivity? So, this is what Nick Epley and his colleagues have looked at. Nick has an awesome book called Mind Wise about kind of how we go wrong predicting other people’s minds, and he did a very fun intervention with folks who are on public transit and just had them try to increase social connection with strangers. So, the experiment is you’re about to hop on the train to go to work. He says, do you want to be in a study? You say, yes. And he says, great. You are plopped into one of three conditions. You’re either in the connection condition which is like, I’m going to pay you like a small amount of money. I think he gives him a banana in some conditions like, not too much, but you’re in this condition where I want you to make a connection. You have to sit on this train. You have to talk and have a conversation with somebody. And you have to try to make a meaningful social connection as long as you need to, but like, you need to leave here feeling like you’re connected with this person. Or he says, you’re in the solitude condition. Your goal is to just like, be like, enjoy solitude, a lot of people love solitude, just be quiet, be by yourself, and just like, try to enjoy as much as possible. Or you’re in a control which is I say, go on this train and do what you would normally do on the train. You know, maybe some people are more talkative than others and just have that as a control. And the question is what happens to their happiness over time? He also has people predict what’s going to happen because as we’ve seen with this miswanting, we sometimes get this wrong. But here’s what people predict in this experiment. One, when you’re on a train and I tell you to do that. What people predict is probably what some of you might predict which is that the solitude condition is the best of positivity followed by the control, and then, the connection when you have to actually talk to somebody on the train, it’s going to make you feel weird. It’s going to be awkward, looking and have to talk to that person it’s like going to suck. But what actually happens is, in fact, just the opposite. The solitude condition is the lowest one. People actually reduce their positivity from when they go on the train. People don’t like that. And they get a big boost in positivity when they do the connection. That’s on the train and you might say like, well, the train, you know, it’s a bunch of like intellectual people on the Amtrak, and like, you know, will have a great conversation going into the city or whatever. What about like, if you ask people like what’s the most like, you know, stranger filled public transport like on the city bus? You don’t want to talk to people on the bus. The bus is shorter. You don’t even have that much time. Can we do the same thing there? Well, we do that in the context of what people predict. People are getting on the bus you’re like, hey, if you were in this study and I told you to connect with somebody, and talk to somebody on the bus, how happy would it make you feel in solitude conditions and so on? And what you find is the same thing, maybe even a stronger effect. People think like, solitude is going to be the best. It’s going to be super awkward to talk with somebody on the bus. What you actually find, just the opposite. In fact, even though the normal thing you do on the bus is pretty awful. I guess the city buses are kind of bad, but you can reduce the normal badness of city buses by trying to have a connection and connect with somebody. Again, even though we don’t believe this is going to be the case, we absolutely think that it’s going to be awkward and weird, but, in fact, it just makes us happier. And so, Epley and colleagues then went on to kind of check like what’s going on. Like, well one of the reasons people mispredict this is they think like nobody is really going to be happy if I start talking to them. People are like, you know, working, and they don’t want to get interrupted. It’s just going to be socially awkward. So, is that really the case? What happens to the person who is talked to? And maybe, this is a kind of sad affect. Maybe you talking to somebody on the bus are having an awesome time but the person being talked to is just totally miserable, and like wants to leave, and it’s terrible for them. And so, Epley tested that too. He set people up in a kind of fake social situation where they were kind of both subjects who came in, sort of, waiting in a waiting room, kind of, like a dentist’s office. And then, he asked this effect of being talked to. And he did that in a couple conditions. Those same ones you saw before where he tells people you’ve got to make a connection with this person in the waiting room, or you got to be quiet, or just do what you would normally do. The second subject has no instructions. They don’t know that they’re in a study, but he’s going to ask them later how they feel. He also did this other manipulation which I think is cute where he said, maybe, there’s something really weird about like being forced to talk to somebody that makes it feel better. But if you actually had a choice of whether you did it, like, if you’re actually going to decide to do it, it wouldn’t work. So, he either says, look, like, this is the study. You have no choice. You just have to do it. Or he says, that’s a condition, you’re free to choose. You could kind of do it as much as you want. Interestingly, what he finds is, like, everybody does it pretty much the same level whether they have a choice or not. But what’s the effect on your happiness both for the person who is trying to connect and for the recipient? And so, here’s what he does. Again, here’s the same finding you saw before. That’s the connection condition. We’re looking at bigger bars are kind of more positivity. Both whether you freely choose it or whether you have no choice. The connection condition is better than the solitude, and in the control condition, in this case, you kind of don’t change. But solitude is worse. What happens to the person who’s talked to? Like, they’re not instructed to talk. They just kind of roll in. Is it miserable for them? No, it turns out that in the connection condition, it’s better for them than their baseline. It’s only in the solitude condition, and interestingly, in the control condition where people seem to feel worse. Like, it is the case that the other people you talk to are going to be happier too, even though you don’t realize that. And so, the upshot is that like, even finding social connections, not the ones we care the most about, not these DPL suitemate connections which obviously are going to increase happiness, even these random ones are going to help us out more than we think. And so, this is kind of a point to you is that like as you leave here, talk to the people on the street, talk to the people that are around you. It will make you and them happier than you expect. And so, the final thing we’ll talk about is why this is like, what’s going on in the context of social connection that’s making us so much happier? And what researchers are finding is that just the act of being with somebody seems to affect the normal happiness processes and evaluative processes that we have simply by being around other people. We’re taking in information in the world in a very different way. And this is what Erika Boothby and her colleagues have studied. This is some work by Margaret Clark who’s the head of Trumbull college here and a professor in the Psychology department, and she just asked if the act of being around somebody can change your very subjective experience of good and bad events in the world. And the simple event she chose is just eating some chocolate. So, you’re going to come into a study, and it’s an awesome study. You’re going to be tasting different delicious chocolates and just kind of giving your ratings of them. You also might be looking at different beautiful artwork and giving your ratings of that. And you happen to come in with another subject. So, you come in and there’s another subject. There, you say, “Oh, hi great!” But it turns out that the other person is not really a subject. They’re just a confederate in the study. But you don’t know that. You just sit down, and you’re then assigned to one of two conditions. You’re going to eat this tasty chocolate, and you’re either going to do it at the same time as the other person. So, I pull out of a hat, and I say, you know, you guys get to go together. You’re both going to do chocolate first, or you do it at a different time. I say, subject, you’re going to do chocolate first, but the other person is going to do art. So, you’re both doing this activity. You’re both looking at something that you think is probably pleasant, but in one case, you’re doing the same thing at the same time. In the other case, you’re doing something different. Subjects aren’t instructed to talk to each other. In fact, they’re kind of doing this silently, kind of behind a barrier. They just know that somebody else is there doing the same thing. And the question is does this affect your enjoyment of things? And here’s what Boothby and colleagues find. If you measure how much people like the chocolate in the shared experience, they end up liking the chocolate more a whole point on the chocolate liking scale. And if you ask other things like, the flavorfulness of the chocolate, kind of how rich the experience is, you get the same sort of effect. Where doing it with somebody else is making these things better. This is crazy. The same exact chocolate tastes more delicious if you just happened to be in the same room as somebody who’s tasting the same chocolate. You’re not talking to each other. You don’t have a connection. This is a stranger to you. Imagine all the richness of watching Netflix with your suite mates, or going to the movies with your suite mates, or going to an art show with your suite mates, or eating the delicious Silliman dining hall food with your friends. All of a sudden, just being around somebody is making these good experiences even better. And so, we think that that might be kind of a mechanism of why a social connection is doing all of its work. It’s just making the richness of life even richer among other sorts of things that it’s doing.

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