Does meaningful connection hold any meaning for you? The term is bandied about so often that it is now used the way “friend” is used for much less than someone you care about and spend time with. It seems that recently, people refer to meaningful connections as someone they have coffee with, an acquaintance who they can reach out to for dinner on occasion, or a person to email with questions from time to time. But, that isn’t what a meaningful connection is. Just like a “friend” isn’t someone you haven’t met or maybe haven’t spoken with in 20 years and click an “add” button for on Facebook. The meaning is becoming lost.
I’ve been reading articles aimed at increasing meaningful connections to decrease loneliness and to increase sales in business. We are offered tips to make an ideal presence on a dating app, master classes in hi-rise office buildings to increase interpersonal activities, and we’re encouraged to shake hands to facilitate meaningful connections that will lead to more sales or business. These examples are similar to a person going to an art museum, walking through while glancing left and right at the artwork on his way through the museum, exiting, and feeling like an art connoisseur. There is a lack of meaning. Simply executing an action doesn’t mean there is any meaning, emotion, or real connection to anything.
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 difficult to determine which are meaningful and how to maximize meaning in our connections.
Here is what a meaningful connection IS:
A meaningful connection is a two-way street. Both parties are getting something from the relationship. The meaning is key. The ability to share vulnerability, common interests, values, and interests are examples of meaning.
A meaningful connection is the person you call or meet with if you are feeling anxious or upset. This is also the person you call when you have fantastic news that you cannot wait to share.
A meaningful connection is the person 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 who you would be happy for if they called to tell you something really great happened for them. You are interested in their well being, whether it be 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 you are hoping will help to open doors for you but with whom you do not have a mutual relationship.
We all crave meaningful connections. By sifting through the simple connections and focusing on the important, valued people in our lives, we build meaningful connections that can last a lifetime. Meaningful connections can be made at any time in our lives, whether we are 9 or 99. We don’t need to give up our superficial connections, but the saying “quality over quantity” does hold true. You can have a million connections, but there is more emotional value in just one meaningful connection.
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.
Sherrod, L. R., Torney-Purta, J., & Flanagan, C. A. (2010). Handbook of Research on Civic Engagement in Youth. Hoboken, NJ, United States: Wiley.