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Mónica Guzmán describes herself as a raging extrovert, but she still feels less connected to others than she’d like to. Working from home, she often finds herself alone, or worse — feeling alone because she’s still in work mode when her family is around. She tried a Reminders of Connectedness practice by making subtle changes to the interior of her home – like decorating with more family photos and rearranging the living room – and found that these seemingly small changes made a big difference in how she felt throughout her day. We also hear from clinical psychologist Tegan Cruwys about the powerful influence our sense of connectedness can have on our mental health.
Practice: Reminders of Connectedness
Learn more about this practice at Greater Good In Action:
Look around your home, office, or classroom and notice what things around you remind you of being connected to others – words, photographs, memorabilia.
As you move through your day, keep an eye out for things that evoke a feeling of connection. See where you can use them to add more reminders of connection to your space by adding them in or replacing existing objects.
Finally, consider how the furniture is arranged. Are chairs facing toward or away from each other? Find any changes you can make to common spaces so that they’re more conducive to spontaneous interactions.
Mónica Guzmán is Senior Fellow for Public Practice at Braver Angels, a nonprofit working to depolarize America, founder and CEO of Reclaim Curiosity, an organization working to build a more curious world. She’s also the author of I Never Thought Of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times.
You can check out the book here: https://boook.link/I-Never-Thought-of-It-That-Way
Visit Mónica’s website:https://www.moniguzman.com/
Follow Mónica on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/moniguzman/?hl=en
Follow Mónica on Twitter: https://tinyurl.com/3k4pn4c4
Follow Mónica on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/moniguzman
Tegan Cruwys is a professor and clinical psychologist at Australian National University.
Learn more about Tegan and her work: https://tinyurl.com/ykepk5r4
Resources from The Greater Good Science Center:
11 Things to Do When You Feel Lonely: https://tinyurl.com/b8m86fhy
What the Longest Happiness Study Reveals About Finding Fulfillment: https://tinyurl.com/2s3b59fn
What Psychedelics Can Teach Us About Human Connection: https://tinyurl.com/5buyydw7
Skills You Need for Happier Relationships with Family: https://tinyurl.com/weeusepn
The Atlantic - What Makes Us Happy: https://tinyurl.com/2nxpbhsd
NYT - I Love You But I Don’t Want To Sleep With You: https://tinyurl.com/tjnxbdtt
Scientific American - Why We Are Wired To Connect: https://tinyurl.com/59u4ffua
Tell us about your experiences of connectedness. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the hashtag #happinesspod.
Help us share The Science of Happiness!
Leave us a 5-star review on Apple Podcasts or share this link with someone who might like the show: https://tinyurl.com/2p9h5aap
Mónica Guzmán: I love my work and I love my family and so it’s hard to keep telling myself that I am actually with them when I’m with my phone.
You’re in work mode.You’re, you’ve got tons of tabs open. You know, you’re looking at social media. And then you go upstairs, and then you go out, like in the car with your family. And it’s still spinning in your head. It’s still there. And so what do you do? Well, you take out your phone. I’ll just check one more time. You know, how’s that video doing? What’s going on? Has that person responded to my email yet?
One of the moments that repeated itself too often for me, uh, was me being upstairs in our main floor and. Being in some break from my workday, you know, maybe I’m coming to get a snack or a glass of water or what have you. I’m just between meetings and then my kids who come home from school before I’m finished with my work, maybe wanna tell me something, maybe wanna show me something. But I’m still on my phone. I’m responding to Slack messages, emails. I’m looking at Twitter, you know, wondering — vanity — how many likes this thing got or whatever.
And so I spend all that time when I’m with my family, not with my family, and it’s, it’s — it’s awful.
Dacher Keltner: Welcome to The Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner. Our guest this week, Mónica Guzmán, is a journalist and author and has devoted years of her life to connecting with new people across differences. But she was struggling to feel that connection at home.
For our show, Mónica tried a happiness practice where you look for the subtle reminders of connection you have around you – like objects, written words, photographs – and then you make it a point to add a few more. Later, we’ll hear about how social connections affect our mental health, for better and for worse.
Tegan Cruwys: Does social withdrawal commence after, or before someone’s other symptoms of depression?
More, after this break.
Dacher Keltner: Welcome back to The Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner.
This week on The Science of Happiness, we’re joined by Monica Guzmán, the author of one of my favorite books to come out in recent years I Never Thought of it That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times. And even though Monica describes herself as a “raging extrovert,” she’s been feeling — like many of us do — that she could really use a little more connection.
So for today’s show, she tried our Reminders of Connectedness practice where you look for the subtle reminders of connection you have around you – like objects, written words, photographs – and then you make it a point to add a few more.
Monica, thanks for joining us on The Science of Happiness.
Mónica Guzmán: Thank you so much for having me.
Dacher Keltner: So you chose the reminders of connectedness practice, which I love for many different reasons. And what you do, you look at your environment, maybe it’s your home or your office, and look for things that we put up as our reminders of connection, you know, photos and things from a trip. And it’s so justified by the science kids who are reminded of, people who connect well are more helpful to other kids who are adults around them. Even reading words like community makes us more cooperative. Such a powerful thing to do. Why’d this practice jump out?
Mónica Guzmán: I guess since the pandemic you know, we’ve all spent so much more time at home, and in addition, I, I’ve considered myself a raging extrovert, so yeah, a lot of time I’m out of my house, you know, before the pandemic, just let’s go, but during the pandemic, I was looking inward a lot more and looking around at my space and noticing how it does or does not help my family thrive. And so that has all been in mind. So the opportunity to take an intentional practice and look at the living room kitchen area.
Dacher Keltner: Is that what you picked?
Mónica Guzmán: That’s what I picked. Yeah. I said, “This is where we spend a lot of our time. This is the heart of the house. Let’s take a closer look.”
Dacher Keltner: What’d you notice?
Mónica Guzmán: Well, one thing I noticed was that the furniture, as much as it looked really nice, the way we had arranged it, and it really looked very nice, the sofa was underneath the big window, facing the woods. You know, gorgeous light coming in, it wasn’t that easy to sit in. And so we ended up, like not really going over there that much. So that’s what I noticed.
I also noticed we have one of those fireplaces kind of, that you just turned on, on and off with a swiTegan Cruwys h, and I noticed we almost never used that. Interesting. I looked around the living room and saw no photos. No photos. In fact, here’s what I did notice: we have our years old digital picture frame that turned itself off probably a year ago, like neither my husband nor I have any idea, but it’s been a black blank screen.
Dacher Keltner: So I have to say, this is painting a rather sad picture. You can’t sit anywhere. There’s this broken down, you know, photo presenter that doesn’t work and makes you add something to your to-do list. So what’d you add?
Mónica Guzmán: We fixed the digital picture frame. I did it. And it took not that long, uh, to go through some of the recent photos. And I intentionally picked, you know, not photos of landscapes, but photos of people.
There’s photos, of my kids of, you know, Halloween of Thanksgiving in the family, you know, photos from nights out, all kinds of stuff, but it’s all people. So there’s a lot of smiles.
Dacher Keltner: That’s nice.What was it like for you to come up with these reminders of connection? What did it feel like and how did it change being in the living room and the kitchen?
Mónica Guzmán: Yeah, I would still come upstairs and sometimes sit sort of idle. And I mentioned that inertia, right? So work is still in my brain. I look around the living room and I’m like, “Oh, I gotta get this stuff done. I gotta get this stuff done.” But now, I sit kind of at the kitchen island and I can see the digital picture frame. And so my thoughts now have something to stimulate them in a positive direction, right? And so maybe my kids are at school and my husband’s out, but there we are and there are my friends.
And I’ll look at somebody on there and be like, “Oh my gosh, I forgot to let them know this thing that I was gonna let them know.” Or, “Oh, it’d be really nice to see them, let me send them a text.” And so I take those moments when I’m in the living room, even in a workday, right? To think about stuff that’s bigger than what’s going on on my screens.
And we’ve been turning on the fireplace more. I think if I had a heat map, I don’t want this, but you know how your phone tracks you all around the world if you want it to, and you can see a heat map of everywhere you’ve been. If I had a heat map around my house, we have spent much more time in that living room since we rearranged the furniture, turned on the fireplace, the digital picture frame is doing its thing. And even just sitting there instead of in the colder chairs up by the kitchen that seemed more accessible before you know you. Yeah. You just feel even the furniture holds you differently. And, um, it’s been really nice to sense that too.
Dacher Keltner: You know, and it’s so interesting that you, with the digital, photo presenter, it, you know, it, it gives you this history, some sense of going back into the past. And a lot of people, you know, you put the pictures of your kids up and then 10 years pass and they’re still there, and it gives you this sense of nostalgia sometimes, you know?
Mónica Guzmán: Oh yeah.
Dacher Keltner: And we know scientifically that nostalgia, even though it feels a little poignant and brings into focus what you’ve lost a little, actually makes you feel more accepted in belonging
Mónica Guzmán: Oh, interesting.
Dacher Keltner: And have a sense of continuity. What, what did it bring to you?
Mónica Guzmán: Well, you know, here’s where I kind of wanna ask you a question because I’m a little stuck. I had put lots of photos that are more recent, so I don’t think there’s anything in that frame that’s older than six months. And so a part of me’s gone, well, gosh, I should go all the way back to like when the kids were born and things like that.
But then another part, part of me thought, no, no, no, no, no. If you get that nostalgic, it’ll pull you too far back and you’re not thinking about your current life. What is the sci…do you know? Like, what should I do?
Dacher Keltner: I, well, I think, you would really have to think about what we would call individual differences, that for some people, nostalgia does have this beneficial effect of like, ah, there’s a history to our family, there’s continuity. It projects into the future, and that’s good. For other people, it might be just past-focused and that could be a little trapping. So I think it depends on the person.
One of my favorite studies is if you go through a really stressful procedure and somebody is just holding your hand that you care about, the threat-related regions of your brain are not activated. Um, so just these reminders have these powerful effects. How did it affect you?
Mónica Guzmán: Yeah, no exactly like that. I’ve been able to tell the difference. If a photo frame or anything in your space can stimulate a thought of warmth, you know, there’s my husband, there’s my friend, there’s that time when I felt good. There’s that belonging. So if I’m going through something like, oh my gosh, I got, there’s a fire I gotta put out. But oh, but hey, there’s that time, you know, even that thought for a moment coming in, I think. Just calms you. It does it, it calms you down.
Dacher Keltner: Well, Mónica Guzmán, thank you so much for being on our show. And thank you for trying this Reminder of Connectedness practice. It’s been wonderful to hear about it and I’m thinking about changing things in my home.
Mónica Guzmán: Yeah, totally. Thank you for assigning this to me, I needed it. It was great.
Dacher Keltner: Up next we look at the association between loneliness and our mental health.
Tegan Cruwys: Health professionals tend to talk about social withdrawal, as part of a kind of complex of symptoms that someone might present with if they are mentally ill. But couldn’t it be the other way around?
Dacher Keltner: We find out the answer, after this break.
Welcome back to the Science of happiness. I’m Dacher Keltner.
Feeling connected to others is a fundamental human need. We are meant to live our lives in community. And yet we’re in a crisis of loneliness. Surveys show that almost 60 percent of Americans are lonely, and we know that it’s worse for people who are younger, less wealthy and from marginalized groups.
Tegan Cruwys: Social connectedness and good mental health tend to go together, that’s really clear. But does social withdrawal commence after or before someone’s other symptoms of depression?
Dacher Keltner: Our producer Haley Gray spoke with Tegan Cruwys, a professor and clinical psychologist at The National Australian University, to learn more about the relationships between loneliness and our mental health.
Haley Gray: Here’s a question: Do you think social isolation is a symptom that comes from depression and anxiety? Or vice versa – are depression and anxiety caused by loneliness?
Tegan Cruwys: Health professionals do often, when they do see signs of social withdrawal as kind of being secondary to some other kind of health problem, even though actually when you dig into the evidence base, there isn’t really good evidence that that’s the direction of the effect.
Haley Gray: Cruwys told me that the DSM — which is like the manual used in the U.S. to diagnose mental illnesses — it lists social withdrawal as an indicator of things like depression or anxiety.
Tegan Cruwys: But couldn’t it be the other way around?
Haley Gray: She put that question to the test: she analyzed the results of a massive survey in New Zealand.
Tegan Cruwys: We had access to over 21,000 people who had completed the survey over a number of years.
Haley Gray: So every year, the same people answered the same questions, like … “In the past 30 days, how often did you feel so depressed that nothing could cheer you up.?” Or … “On a scale of one to seven … how much do you agree with this statement: I know that people in my life accept and value me.”
Tegan Cruwys: So we had five years of data from our participants, and we could look at which way it went between each time point. So if someone was really isolated, were they at higher risk of their mental health declining? And if someone was in a really bad place in their mental health, were they at risk of their social connectedness declining at a later time point?
Haley Gray: She found that actually, both are true.
Tegan Cruwys: However, it is three times stronger in one relationship than the other. And that is, social connectedness is a more important predictor of mental health than the other way around.
Haley Gray: Feeling a lack of strong social ties led to things like depression and anxiety way more than the other way around.
Tegan Cruwys: So if you’re trying to work out what the best point of entry is in terms of where we should start to deal with this problem, social connectedness seems to have the stronger causal effect on mental health.
I think as individuals that we should be prioritizing our relationships when it comes to our health, right up there with things like eating well and exercise and not smoking, right? Like it absolutely should be considered on par.
And I think, rather than trying to, you know, force your family to spend large amounts of time together, it’s more about creating opportunities for those meaningful, high quality connections. And also that doesn’t even need to necessarily be face-to-face. It might be a matter of reminders of those meaningful identities or those kind of brief points of connection that keep that positive connection top of mind.
Haley Gray: That can be as simple as rearranging your living room to make it a more inviting place to hang out. Or adding more photos of family and friends.
Whatever you can do to cultivate that feeling that you’re a part of a community, and that community is a part of you, too.
Dacher Keltner: Next time, on The Science of Happiness:
Kelly Corrigan: I’m never working with enough time and I’m never working with enough budget and so I skip over tons of opportunities for discovery and growth and surprise.
Dacher Keltner: I’m Dacher Keltner. Thanks for joining us on The Science of Happiness,
What helps you feel more socially connected? Share with us by emailing happiness pod@berkeley@edu, or use the hashtag happinesspod.
Our Executive Producer of Audio is Shuka Kalantari. Our producer is Haley Gray. Sound designer Jennie Cataldo of Accompany Studios. And our associate producers are Bria Suggs and Ruth Dusseault. Our editor in chief is Jason Marsh. The Science of Happiness is a co-production of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and PRX.