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The power of social connection: How hanging out impacts our well-being

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Remember the times of just hanging out with friends, maybe in a basement – like the kids from “That ’70s Show.” Today, just “hanging out” is no longer the norm, and it’s not only noteworthy for inspiring future sitcoms; it’s also impacting our health.

In 2023, the U.S. surgeon general released a report titled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,” detailing how loneliness is plaguing the country.

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According to Dr. Sarah Fischer, a psychologist at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha, Nebraska, loneliness can be worse for individuals than moderate smoking.

“So, the stress of loneliness can impact your body in a myriad of ways,” Dr. Fischer said. “Stress in general, it can impact your cardiovascular system, your immune system, your digestive system. It can have cognitive effects, right? Can make your blood pressure go up. And so, stress itself has all these different health effects. But then if we’re feeling lonely or we don’t have social support, that will also impact our behavior and our access to certain things.”

Multiple factors contribute to loneliness, including relationships, community and society. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans were already on a path to loneliness and isolation due to cellphones, technology and social media.

During the pandemic, reliance on technology accelerated. People found new norms for communicating in their professional and personal lives. However, relying solely on shallow forms of online socialization is not enough. In-person contact with other humans is crucial.

“If you can imagine a day at the office, right?” Dr. Fischer said. “If you were in-person, you would come in, kind of put your stuff down. You go to the break room to make your coffee, you run into people on the way. You chat about random stuff that’s kind of meaningless. And you know you have meetings and then after the meeting, you kind of hang back and you talk about your kids and your pets or whatever you want to talk about and it’s those pieces that we’re missing when we’re purely virtual.”

In-person contact is especially beneficial for young adults – who get a lot of socialization on their devices without actual social connection.

“A lot of social media is about comparison,” Dr. Fischer said. “And whichever way it goes, it’s really damaging. So, it can go the direction in which you would expect which is trying to upscale each other, right? so, who has the cutest kids or who’s skinniest or who has the coolest vacation, you know? Like trying to one up each other a little bit overtime and try to portray yourself in the best way.”

According to Professor Sheila Liming, author of “Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time,” even if a person does nothing while hanging out with other people, it ends up being beneficial for everyone involved.

“So I would say if that’s something that someone is trying to get better at or trying to do, it starts with realizing that that time is not wasteful,” Liming said. “Think about what exactly you get out of it. It might not seem valued or productive in a quantifiable sense, but also realize that it is mutual. It’s a two-way street. You’re not only benefiting in the moment, but you’re also contributing to someone else’s well-being.”

By hanging out with others, people gain social connection and interaction, even if they are doing “nothing.” Liming emphasized that a person’s ability to develop and maintain social connections is directly linked to their ability to create happiness for themself. Relationships significantly impact a person’s happiness.

For over 85 years, the Harvard Grant Study investigated what makes people happy. Researcher Robert Waldinger found that one’s relationships and how happy they are in them have a powerful influence on their health.

Dr. Fischer recommended addressing barriers that may prevent people from forming healthy relationships. If someone needs a starting point, consider their interests. Are they into concerts, game nights or art shows?

“Find a group that meets up for those interests,” Dr. Fischer said. “Facebook has opportunities where they have in-person groups.”

However, Fischer warns not not to get too caught up in internet culture. It is not real social connection, it is not truly hanging out and it cannot replace in-person contact.

“True social connection is about two people, or a group of people, talking to each other,” Dr. Fischer said. “Sharing interests, stories, and history. It’s not about comparison or self-image. It’s about pure connection.”

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[SINGING]

“HANGING OUT, DOWN THE STREET. THE SAME OLE THING, WE DID LAST WEEK”

[LAUREN TAYLOR]

TAKE US BACK TO THE GOOD OLE DAYS.

THE TIMES OF JUST HANGING OUT WITH FRIENDS…

MAYBE IN A BASEMENT – LIKE THE KIDS FROM THAT 70’S SHOW.

IN TODAY’S WORLD JUST “HANGING OUT” IS NO LONGER THE NORM AND IT’S NOT JUST NOTEWORTHY FOR INSPIRING FUTURE SITCOMS – IT’S IMPACTING OUR HEALTH. 

LAST YEAR, THE U.S. SURGEON GENERAL RELEASED A REPORT TITLED “OUR EPIDEMIC OF LONELINESS AND ISOLATION” – DETAILING HOW LONELINESS IS PLAGUING OUR COUNTRY.

HE SAYS IT’S HAVING AN EFFECT ON OUR WELL-BEING.

AND HE’S NOT THE ONLY ONE.

DOCTOR SARAH FISCHER IS A PSYCHOLOGIST AT NEBRASKA MEDICINE IN OMAHA, NEBRASKA – AND SAYS LONELINESS CAN BE WORSE FOR YOU – THAN MODERATE SMOKING. 

[DR. SARAH FISCHER]

“So the stress of loneliness can impact your body in a myriad of ways. Stress in general, it can impact your cardiovascular system, your immune system, your digestive system. It can have cognitive effects, right? Can make your blood pressure go up. And so stress itself has all these different health effects. But then if we’re feeling lonely or we don’t have social support, that will also impact our behavior and our access to certain things right?”

[LAUREN TAYLOR]

FISCHER SAYS THERE’S MULTIPLE FACTORS TO LONELINESS INCLUDING RELATIONSHIPS, COMMUNITY, AND SOCIETY.

SHE SAYS – BEFORE THE COVID PANDEMIC – MANY AMERICANS WERE ALREADY ON A PATH TO LONELINESS AND ISOLATION – WITH CELL PHONES, TECHNOLOGY, AND SOCIAL MEDIA ALREADY TAKING A TOLL.

[DR. SARAH FISCHER]

“And so, more and more we’re getting a lot more of what we think is our socialization online, right… especially through social media like twitter or facebook or instagram, you know all the classic offenders. And when covid hit, everyone was forced to just rely on that.”

[LAUREN TAYLOR]

RELIANCE ON TECH ACCELERATED DURING THE PANDEMIC.

WE HAD TO FIND NEW NORMS OF COMMUNICATING IN OUR PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL LIVES.

[DR. SARAH FISCHER]

“And so that really just pushed the pedal down on the gas, ya know, in terms of really starting to rely more and more on more shallow forms of socialization, I think, and not having that same community integration that we really need as a human species.”

[LAUREN TAYLOR]

AND – DOCTOR FISCHER SAYS THAT KIND OF COMMUNICATION – IS NOT ENOUGH.

IN-PERSON CONTACT WITH OTHER HUMANS – IS SO IMPORTANT FOR US.

 

[TAKE SOT]

[DR. SARAH FISCHER]

“Like if you can imagine a day at the office, right, if you were in-person. You would come in, kind of put your stuff down. You go to the break room to make your coffee, you run into people on the way. You chat about random stuff that’s kind of meaningless. And you know you have meetings and then after the meeting, you kind of hang back and you talk about your kids and your pets or whatever you want to talk about and it’s those pieces that we’re missing when we’re purely virtual.”

[LAUREN TAYLOR]

IN-PERSON CONTACT IS ESPECIALLY BENEFICIAL FOR YOUNG ADULTS – WHO GET A LOT OF SOCIALIZATION ON THEIR DEVICES – WITHOUT ACTUAL SOCIAL CONNECTION.

[DR. SARAH FISCHER]

“A lot of social media is about comparison and whichever way it goes, it’s really damaging. So it can go the direction in which you would expect which is trying to upscale each other, right? So who has the cutest kids or who’s skinniest or who has the coolest vacation, ya know? Like trying to one up each other a little bit overtime and try to portray yourself in the best way.”

[LAUREN TAYLOR] 

SO WHAT’S A SOLUTION?

PROFESSOR AND AUTHOR OF “HANGING OUT: THE RADICAL POWER OF KILLING TIME” -SHEILA LIMING- SAYS EVEN IF YOU DO NOTHING WHILE HANGING OUT WITH OTHER PEOPLE. IT ENDS UP BEING BENEFICIAL FOR YOU AND THEM.

[SHEILA LIMING] 

“So I would say if that’s something that someone is trying to get better at or trying to do that, it starts with realizing that that time is not wasteful. Thinking about what exactly you do get out of it. That might not seem like it’s valued or it’s productive and maybe like a more quantifiable sense, but then also realizing that it is mutual. It’s a two way street, right? So it’s not just that like you’re getting a benefit in the moment too, but you’re also participating in someone else’s benefits as well and contributing to it.”

[LAUREN TAYLOR]

AND WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU GETTING BY JUST HANGING OUT WITH OTHERS?

SOCIAL CONNECTION AND INTERACTION – EVEN IF YOU’RE DOING “NOTHING.”

[SHEILA LIMING] 

“Our ability to develop and maintain those social connections is linked to our ability to create happiness for ourselves.”

[LAUREN TAYLOR]

THAT’S RIGHT – YOUR RELATIONSHIPS ARE DIRECTLY LINKED TO YOUR HAPPINESS.

FOR MORE THAN 85 YEARS – THE HARVARD GRANT STUDY HAS BEEN LOOKING INTO WHAT MAKES PEOPLE HAPPY.

RESEARCHER ROBERT WALDINGER SAID THE STUDY FOUND “that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health.”

DOCTOR FISCHER RECOMMENDS TACKLING THE BARRIERS THAT MAY BE PREVENTING YOU FROM FORMING HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS.

IF YOU NEED SOMEWHERE TO START – FIGURE OUT YOUR INTERESTS – IS IT CONCERTS? GAME NIGHTS? ART SHOWS?

[DR. SARAH FISCHER]

“And then find a group that does that meet up is good for that. Facebook, I think, has some opportunities where they have groups that meet in person.”

[LAUREN TAYLOR]

DON’T GET TOO CAUGHT UP IN INTERNET CULTURE – SHE SAYS – BECAUSE THAT’S NOT REAL SOCIAL CONNECTION – IT’S NOT REALLY HANGING OUT – AND CAN’T BE A REPLACEMENT FOR IN-PERSON CONTACT.

[DR. SARAH FISCHER]

“Where as true social connection is about two people, or a group of people, like talking to each other, right? And sharing interests, and sharing stories, and sharing history. And it’s not about how am I comparing myself to you or how am I? How is my self-image maybe wrapped up in what I see in you? Right. It’s just about pure connection, if that makes sense.”