The other day I was listening to Kurt Vonnegut's graduation speeches (because I like to party, ladies) who had an interesting take on unhappiness. Vonnegut says people's unhappiness is rooted in not having enough people in their lives.
Context - Vonnegut is advising young college grads on married life. He says the reason why a wife feels lonely or a husband feels bored can be fixed by having more people in their lives. He specifically suggests at least 50 people. It doesn't have to be quality 50 people either. The number itself is what matters, quantity over quality.
The idea is larger than Vonnegut's marriage context. It can help increase happiness, period. We simply need more interactions in our lives to be happy. Specifically, grow the number of interactions with people in the grey area between friends and strangers. It's easier now than ever. Remember, when in the grey, it's quantity over quality.
In 1992, British Anthropologist Robin Dunbar found the number of friendships a human can maintain is (take a guess...) 148. How close are you to hitting capacity? You should be a lot closer than anyone living in 1992. It was hard to fit people in the grey area between friends and strangers, unless you had a pen pal. And lesbihonest, you probably had more imaginary friends than adults had pen pals in 1992.
Facebook killed the pen pal and it's a good thing. Example - that nice couple you met in Vegas? Both are now your Facebook friends. Now, they're married and recently had a kid. You're seeing it all (and commenting!) on Facebook. Beats the hell out of being pen pals. They definitely aren't strangers but they aren't quite friends (you'll probably never see them again). However, they are the perfect fit for the grey area and the increase of which will increase happiness. Why? Simply because additional interactions, even casual ones, add to your sense of connection.
According to Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, interactional needs are superseded in importance only by food and [not] dying. Increase your interactions, increase your happiness. In case Maslow is too old school for you, research as late as 2009 shows human beings are simply far more intertwined and interdependent—physiologically as well as psychologically—than our cultural prejudices have allowed us to acknowledge. In fact, in between each heartbeat our hearts send off a specific frequency which is received by another heart in the area. In other words, our hearts communicate with each other. Oh and the buzziest buzz word of the decade in neuroscience is mirror neurons which (in a tweet) is the name given to the neurons which prove humans are subconsciously and constantly mirroring one another's interactions.
So if your genetic makeup, your brain and your heart both want to interact, why are you afraid of social media? So much negative press pops up in my twitter feed warning me the hyper-connected, super-social world of today is bad, bad, BAD! It's all in how you use it. I suggest you make use of it to grow the grey area between friends and strangers.
The same criticism facing the internet today was thrown at television yesterday. Maybe this sounds familiar - Watching TV is making people less social. People are staying in instead of going out. TV aids solitude which results in depression. Really? Ever discuss the Daily Show with your friends? Or maybe Rush Limbaugh (I will pray for you)? Do you and your close friends love the same movies? I am pretty sure the only reason I had friends in middle school was WWF. Tuesday morning discussions of WWF's soap opera on steroids helped me build a social network before social network became a household name.
Speaking of school, I bet you interacted more in high school and college than you do now. You might not have been friends with every person in your classes but surely there were many faces fitting the grey area between friends and strangers. There were teachers, counselors, members of some random club you joined, randos in class, randos at house parties, that guy riding a unicycle around campus instead of a skateboard, etc. You simply interacted more. In fact, if we sat down to count, you interacted with at least 50 people if not closer to Dunbar's 148.
After high school and college is when the insulation begins. People progressively insulate themselves into a box of coworkers, girl/boyfriend, few close besties, some family, and that's about it. The environment changes drastically but the habits to maintain the same level of interaction don't keep up. We can fix it, thanks to the hyper-connected, super-social world of today, it's easy, easy, EASY!
In fact, some are already doing it. Remember posting that music video on Facebook? Maybe you are interacting with peers in industry specific groups on linked in? How about something off buzz feed that you HAD to text your friend? Or debating android vs iPhone with a troll in the comment section of an article? Maybe you have a couple conversations going on Tinder? (Ok so seriously if you don't know tinder as a single human, stop reading and go download. NOW! Buy me a drink later) I can go on and on. Point is - those are all interactions! They count towards Vonnegut's 50.
Sharing, reciprocating, and bonding are all part of the human condition. And it's never been easier to fulfill that aspect of humanity than today. We just have to take advantage of it! Ignore the critics and embrace the hyper-connected, super-social freaks we are evolving into. Add members to the grey area between friends and strangers. Aim for Dunbar's 148. If you miss, you'll fall on Vonnegut's 50 and be happier in the process.
Image by Applum