A Reflection on Human Connection

Web of Human Connections

Web of Human Connections

As we live in quarantine, separated from neighbors, friends, teachers, and schoolmates, many of us have found ourselves going crazy with the lack of social interaction. We long to see our friends, to get out of the house, to go somewhere, anywhere, to talk with someone, a random stranger, to even go back to school and the monotonous schedule. The question is, why? Why do we so greatly crave this social interaction? Why is it so hard for us to live with so little of it?

The fact is, socialization is a vital aspect of human life. So much so, that the main purpose of the brain is social thinking. Scientists have found that whenever it has a free moment, the brain tends to have an automatic reflex to turn to social thinking where it dedicates time in making sense of other people and their feelings, thoughts, and goals.

Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, asks, “Why would the brain, which forms only 2 percent of our body weight but consumes 20 percent of its energy, use its limited resources on social thinking, rather than conserving its energy by relaxing?” The answer to this question has come to a widely agreed conclusion: evolutionary benefit.

We as human beings have recognized that there is strength in numbers and that we are better off facing threat and defending ourselves with the aid of others than by ourselves. Thus, not only do we as humans have the basic needs of food, water, and shelter, but we also have the basic need for relationship building and involvement with others. Aristotle stated in his work Politics, “Man is by nature a social animal…Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to and therefore does not partake of society is either a beast or a god.”

Our motivation to make and keep relationships not only stems from basic needs but is also fueled by the desire to feel accepted and cared for. These feelings, including those of being needed and loved, activate the brain’s reward center which results in the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases our happiness. As we socialize, we feel the rush of excitement, pleasure, and joy, feelings our brain constantly yearns for. We form relationships and join groups and our brain encourages us to maintain those connections.

Being quarantined for weeks on end intensifies our longing for the high socialization that gives us. We are at a point where we can agree with sociobiologist E.O. Wilson who has written, “To be kept in solitude is to be kept in pain and put on the road to madness.”

With the lack of social interaction, our dopamine levels have drastically decreased. However, is this necessarily a bad thing? Sneha John, a Child and Adult Psychologist from LifeWorks Holistic Counselling Centre in Dubai points out, “The lack of outside stimulation is helping us to find a balance in our hormone system. At this point in time, it doesn’t take much to make us feel very happy. A sweet message from a loved one. A video chat with a group of friends. Making a puzzle with your parents. Self-isolation has made it easy for us to feel a rewarding dose of dopamine when we do the simplest thing.”

With such a reduction of our daily dopamine dosage, we begin to appreciate small social interactions even more than before. We realize that social isolation has made us so much more aware by eliminating several distractions and forcing us to slow down and focus. Because of this, the small and simple things are very effective at producing happiness. This knowledge makes us realize how big of an impact we can make while still maintaining social distance. As you find those ways to effectively connect with others and strengthen your relationships, you will be able to recognize how great of an opportunity quarantine can be as you brighten someone’s day along with your own with even the smallest act of friendliness.