Feeling connected to others in a world that is increasingly individualistic may seem a challenge, but there are simple exercises you can use to develop stronger bonds with others and to improve the quality of your relationships.
There is little doubt that humans are social beings. Feeling close to others contributes to our overall feelings of happiness and fulfilment, and there are plenty of studies that confirm this from a scientific point of view. In fact, scientists believe our brains are hard-wired to be social and that our development as a species relied on our ability to maintain strong bonds.
But although we live surrounded by people, it seems that loneliness and isolation are some of the biggest social challenges of the 21st century. Researchers have noted that one can have a wide social network and interact regularly with others and still feel lonely or disconnected, which suggests that intimacy is a key factor in the development of meaningful connections with others. In this post, we will show you five easy exercises that can help deepen connection you have with others.
Meditation is a fabulous tool that can help you achieve greater awareness and connection with the world that surrounds us.
Several studies have found that meditation practice has a positive effect on close relationships and helps develop a stronger sense of intimacy. According to these studies, there are several reasons why meditation works: first of all, meditation makes us more accepting of our own flaws, so we can easily become more forgiving of others. Secondly, meditation improves our ability to separate thoughts from emotions and makes us less “reactive”, so we can continue working on developing closeness despite ups and downs in our relationships.
Shou-yi is a lesser-known form of meditation that comes from the Taoist tradition. The name itself means “to embrace the one”, so it is easy to see why this technique can help deepen a connection with others. Shou-yi brings to the forefront of your mind the fact that in one way or another, we are all interconnected and interdependent. This technique is also known as “quiet sitting” and involves contemplative meditation based on Taoist philosophy.
- Sit down with your back straight
- Visualise the five “yin organs” or bodily parts where energy resides, which are the liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys. This could be compared to a body scan, where you focus on one body part at the time
- Each yin organ has a colour associated to it. Liver is azure, the heart is a vivid red, the spleen is yellow, lungs are white, and kidneys are dark blue. Focus on the relevant colour as you move through each body part
- According to Taoist scriptures, these colours also correspond to the five elements: wood (azure), fire (red), earth (yellow), metal (white), and water(dark blue)
- Visualise the flow between body parts, colours, and elements
The goal of this technique is to achieve a deep insight into oneness and bring a deep sense of harmony between humans, the earth, and the cosmos. Once you are in the “oneness mindset”, it becomes easier to look at the forest instead of getting distracted by the trees (other people’s habits and traits that bother us). After all, there is a reason why Taoist philosophy has been used for
peacebuilding and conflict management purposes.
A second exercise is loving-kindness meditation (LKM). The ultimate goal of LKM is to strengthen compassion, love, and appreciation for other beings, so it is the ideal technique to improve intimacy. A study of people who practised loving-kindness meditation for 6 weeks showed a reduction in the negativity levels of their relationships, and participants reported having a stronger support network and increased happiness. The technique is also simple:
- Find a quiet space and choose a comfortable position
- Create a mantra, which should include good wishes towards others (
for example: “May I be happy, healthy and free from harm. May you be happy, healthy and free from harm”)
- Repeat the mantra in 6 stages: first direct it towards yourself, next towards someone who has had a positive effect in your life, then towards a relative or friend, next towards someone you feel neutral or have an occasional conflict with, then towards someone you dislike, and last towards all beings
- While you repeat the mantra, picture those good wishes physically going from you to other people
- Here’s an example of a loving kindness meditation by Jack Kornfield
The third exercise is writing gratitude letters. Letting other people know we value them and care for them can improve our relationship with others, since we become more likely to overlook people’s flaws, lessening any chance of conflict and helping us achieve a better appreciation of other people’s value.
Gratitude letters can deepen connection because our feelings of gratitude are directly shown to the other person.
This has a strong impact on the quality of the relationship, as well as a lasting effect that can span several weeks, as shown by studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Even if you don’t send the letter, putting your gratitude in writing makes you more aware of your positive emotions and is bound to make you feel closer to others.
Gratitude letters work because when we direct our attention to gratefulness, we automatically divert it from toxic or negative emotions. And as some researchers have found, the benefits multiply over time, since cultivating an ongoing gratitude practice causes changes in brain activity in areas related to decision-making, meaning that there is a link between gratitude feelings and how we act towards others.
Getting To Know Your Exercise
The fourth method is a 36-question exercise that you can use to understand others better and get a better picture of who they are. For this exercise, you will need to set 45 minutes aside and take turns asking the questions that you can find here. Research at US universities has shown that this exercise is effective in helping deepen connection and closeness between people. This is so because the exercise relies on mutual self-disclosure as opposed to small talk, and because it requires both sides to open up, providing a safe environment where there is no fear of feeling vulnerable or one-sided.
Devoting time to actually listen to others (instead of simply exchanging views or acknowledging information) is one of the best ways of showing we care for them. Deep listening can also help increase empathy, because in doing so we get to understand better other people’s motives, needs, and fears, gaining a more accurate picture of who they are as human beings. Next time you have a conversation with someone, focus on what they are saying without judging or interrupting, and do your best to be present in the moment, being supportive and receptive. It is also useful to have some guidelines in mind:
- Suspend assumptions
- Suspend judgement
- Suspend status (communicate on an equal-to-equal basis)
- Honour confidentiality
- Honour silence
Deep listening works because by not being judgmental and overlooking differences in opinion, others feel more inclined to trust us. Overall, deep listening improves the quality of our relationships and sets a solid foundation for authentic interpersonal encounters.
Benefits of Deeper Intimacy
We live in a society that is increasingly individualistic, so it is always good to remember the benefits of crafting a deeper connection with others and of cultivating intimacy in relationships. The benefits are both physical and emotional: being able to connect with others at a deeper level generates empathy, which has been proven to give a sense of purpose and to strengthen the immune system. Other studies show that stronger connectedness with others is a key component of our support system, can lower stress and anxiety levels, and has been linked to lower heart disease rates.
Of course, lasting closeness, intimacy, and loyalty will not come automatically. There is no magic pill when it comes to deepening your connection with others, but the exercises we have discussed here are a good starting point that can help your enjoy richer and more meaningful relationships.