- Recent research shows our health is linked to positive social connections.
One of the last posts here was about the use of personal technology by employees, such as their own laptops and smart phones and how that utilization can make them more efficient and contented. However, too much screen time apparently is not good for our sense of connectedness to other people. Researcher and author Barbara Frederickson recently wrote an article in the New York Times describing how our tendency to be impacted by our experiences is as plastic as our brains. In other words, our minds and bodies respond to what we are experiencing and can change the way we function.
Frederickson and her research team studied a group of people who were assigned to take a six-week course using meditation with a loving kindness focus. Predictably, those who took this training felt more positive and better connected socially. However, something new was found also - a change in an indicator of internal health, the vagal tone. When this is higher it indicates the heart, immune system and glucose response are functioning better.
This vagus nerve that regulates the heartbeat does the same thing for other internal processes as well. It also helps calm down the body when we get stressed. (A different study, conducted in 2010, found that low vagal tone is linked with poorer recovery from stress.) To summarize, what is implied by the research is that people with more authentic social connections will probably be healthier and recover from life's stressors faster - whether those are work-related or of a personal nature.
In his book, Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh wrote that the number of good friends an employee has at work is related to how engaged they are on the job, which means how attentive and dedicated they are. Generally, the more engaged an employee is in his or her job, they happier the employee will probably be and happier employees tend to be more productive, take fewer sick days and stay in their jobs longer.
Frederickson says it is these moments of connection between people that help generate empathy and improve our health. If you wanted to simplify the research even more, the well-known slogan 'It pays to be kind' probably applies, because kindness makes social connections possible and helps strengthen them.
Image Credit: Mdk572, Wiki Commons