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Why to Send Out Holiday Cards, and Create Connection in Other Ways

Research tells us the best ways to connect with others, and why it’s important.

Key points

  • Americans are experiencing unprecdented levels of loneliness.
  • Reserach shows that reaching out to others is appreciated more than we expect.
  • There is growing evidence that social connection with others is good for our health.
Jessica/Adobe Stock
Source: Jessica/Adobe Stock

With the holiday season in full swing, most people think about reaching out to friends and family with a holiday card, a plate of cookies, or an invitation to visit.

This year, we may need these connections more than ever. Our social lives are in sharp decline, according to a nationally-representative survey conducted last year by the Survey Center for American Life. According to the survey, Americans say they have fewer close friendships, talk to their friends less often, and rely less on friendships for personal support.

But there is good news: Connecting with loves ones is not as difficult as it may seem. A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people tend to underestimate how much friends like hearing from them.

The study included 13 separate experiments with more than 5,900 participants who were asked to reach out to friends and acquaintances with small gestures such as a brief phone call, text or email, or a small gift, such as baked goods. The researchers checked in with the participants who made contact and their friends to gauge everyone’s responses to the interaction.

In every experiment, the friends on the receiving end appreciated the interaction significantly more than the study participants anticipated they would. When recipients were surprised—either because the gesture was unexpected or because they had a weaker connection to the participant – they tended to be even more grateful and appreciative.

There is also concrete evidence that this type of social support is good for us. All sorts of systematic reviews demonstrate the power of social support to improve outcomes for people with depression, lessen the feelings of burden on caregivers, bolster the academic success of underrepresented students, help us meet our fitness goals, and prevent dementia, to name just a few.

What prevents us from reaching out? First, there is clear evidence that people generally underestimate how much others like them and enjoy their company; researchers refer to this as “the liking gap.” Second, most people worry that other people will judge them harshly during interactions; researchers call this “the beautiful mess effect.”

But in reality, regular social connections and friendships are important components of our health, providing a sense of purpose and improving our overall well-being.

The take-home message: Reach out to your loved ones and acquaintances this holiday season. The evidence shows they’ll be happy to hear from you—and that these connections are good for you both.

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