Does the widely used term “meaningful connection” hold any meaning for you? The phrase is bandied about how “friend” is used for those we care about and arbitrarily connect with on social media and work. There is a vast difference between a true friend and a social media “friend.” A true friend is a person we know, like, and trust. A social media “friend” can be someone we may not know, have faith in, or even like. A work “friend” can be a person we spend much of our day interacting with but may not be someone we feel close or connected to outside the necessary work interactions. The “friend” distinction has blurred the same way we’ve dulled the perception of meaningful connections. But is this important? Should we even bother looking for differences between meaningful and superficial relationships?

Yes, we should!

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The long-term effect of meaningful connections is increased physical and emotional well-being.

There is a biological, basic human need for meaningful connections. We know that we are “built” to have meaning in our lives based on our emotional development throughout our lives. Psychologist Dan McAdams writes about the importance of having meaning in our lives, which manifests in generativity in our Midlife. Psychologist Lonnie Sherrod has spoken about civic engagement with younger generations and the importance of feeling connected with our community and the world. While social media isn’t robbing us of meaningful connections, it does make it challenging to determine which are meaningful and how to maximize meaning in our relationships.  

Here is what a meaningful connection IS:

A meaningful connection is a two-way street; both parties get something from the relationship. The meaning is critical, and the ability to share vulnerability, common interests, values, and interests are examples of meaning.

A meaningful connection is a person you call or meet if you feel anxious or upset. You are comfortable showing your vulnerability with this person, and you expect them to soothe you in a time of need. This is also the person you call when you have fantastic news you cannot wait to share.  

A meaningful connection is someone who calls you when they need someone to vent to. And you are happy to take the call because you care to hear what they have to say. This same person is someone you would be happy for if they called to tell you something extraordinary happened to them, and you are interested in their well-being, good or bad.  

These are our meaningful connections.  

Here’s what meaningful connections ARE NOT:

A meaningful connection is NOT connecting with people on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, where you can follow what they are doing, know the latest job they are holding, and follow their “likes” and posts.

A meaningful connection is NOT finding a “mentor” at work who hopes to help open doors for you but with whom you do not have a mutual relationship.

A meaningful connection is NOT a co-worker with whom you do not share any mutual feelings or concerns for one another outside of your work obligations. You do not seek to spend time outside of work with this person and do not share personal highs and lows.

We all crave meaningful connections. We build meaningful relationships that can last a lifetime by sifting through superficial relationships and focusing on the critical, valued people in our lives. Meaningful relationships can be made at any time in our lives, whether we are 9 or 99. We don’t need to give up our superficial relationships, but the saying “quality over quantity” does hold. You can have a million links, but there is more emotional value in just one meaningful connection.  

Making meaning a part of our everyday, in our connections and interactions, is helpful to us in our physical and emotional well-being.

References:

McAdams, D. & de St. Aubin, E. (1998). Generativity and Adult Development: How and Why We Care for the Next Generation. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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Originally Published on https://deborahheiserphd.substack.com/

Deborah Heiser, PhD The Right Side of 40

Deborah Heiser, PhD is an Applied Developmental Psychologist with a specialty in Aging. I'm a researcher, TEDx speaker, contributor for Psychology Today, Substack blogger, CEO of The Mentor Project, and adjunct professor of Psychology.

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