Where I work, at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, I’ve often heard patients and visitors comment on feeling welcome and included when staff makes eye contact with them and greets them. No matter what we call it—caring, love—I believe that, as humans, our heart yearns for moments like these.
I've recently learned I'm not the only one who notices this. Dr. Barbara Frederickson, Principal Investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab (PEPLab) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Love 2.0 Creating Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, has been studying what I’ve been noticing at work.
As some of you may already know, when positive human connection happens, the vagal tone of the heart increases, resulting in a healthier heartbeat. In addition, the body produces more Oxytocin, a hormone that helps people connect in a more open, trusting way. Essentially, what this means is that we are such social creatures that we have the ability to sense when others are interacting with us in a positive way. Take notice of social interactions during your day when you feel a connection to someone.
Another tool suggested by Frederickson is called Loving Kindness Medication, in which a person focuses intently on another person or many people as phrases are said out loud. These phrases can be anything, but often include ones like "May you find some peace" "May your burdens be lifted" or "May you be safe from harm." Engaging in this activity can offer the same benefits as a positive exchange with someone else.
The idea that positive connections with others could increase positive emotions, particularly love, is not such a surprising idea. See if trying out some of these practices might create increased moments of healthy connection for you.
James Supplee, PsyD is a psychologist with Bryn Mawr Rehab Psychology Associates.