Social wellbeing, it's so much more than a good party or a warm hug
Social well-being is another part of cracking the code to mental flourishing. Human beings are naturally social creatures, and we need others to survive and thrive. The people around us comprise a large part of our day and our ability to meet our needs through the day. When we’re not as well connected to the people we care about, and the broader communities which we’re a part of, our mind begins to worry, and our mental health often nosedives.
We can look at our social health across 5 dimensions.
Social Acceptance: “I accept people as they are, and believe that most people are good”.
When we have high social acceptance, we trust and accept most people around us. This can often be a signal that we’ve found our place in the world, and are generally comfortable with the people around us. We don’t lose energy to hiding away or protecting ourselves from others.
During any given interaction, we accept people as they are. We don’t internalize the actions of others which we don’t like, such as when someone isn’t friendly to us. Rather than believing that their behaviour (like unfriendliness) is a reflection of their opinion of us, we accept their behaviour as a function of who they are and what they are going through. In the example of unfriendliness, we choose to believe that they may be unfriendly to us because they’re having a bad day, or we remind them of someone or something they’re upset about, or any number of other reasons unrelated to us.
A powerful statement to help boost our social acceptance is to simply say to ourselves “I imagine that if I were in their position, with their experiences and contexts, I would act in a similar way”. Of course, you’re not, but as Dale Carnegie reminds us in his leading book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” if you were in their life, in their body, with their lived experiences, OF COURSE you would do what they did.
Briefly pause and consider a situation where you could have applied the statement above.
Social Integration: “I feel like I fit in and that people like me.”
When we have high social integration, we feel like we “belong” and are part of society. This can be driven by the degree to which we feel we have something in common with the groups of people around us. Put differently, we could liken high social integration to “finding your tribe”. We feel a strong sense of community with those who we regularly interact with. This may be a single community, or multiple communities such as your professional community, your local neighbourhood community, and your extended groups of friends.
If you have high social integration, you also have close relationships within those communities. For example, you have a few good friends in your neighbourhood, or a few allies at work. You also find comfort in your community. When things aren’t going well, instead of feeling the need to retreat from your communities, you engage more with them for the support you need in that moment.
Quickly think about a time when you had a big win or big loss. Which groups of people did you celebrate or commiserate with?
Social Coherence: “The world around me and the people in it make sense to me”.
When you have high social coherence, this means that the world is understandable and even predictable to you. Interacting with other people or groups occurs as you would expect, and generally doesn’t catch you off guard. This means that you don’t need to expend too much energy worrying about how interactions may go wrong, and can instead focus on just living in this world.
When we have high social coherence, this influences the way we work and live in our communities. The confidence to know “when I act in this way, people will probably react in that way” is a game changer. It gives us the confidence to be our authentic selves, to put effort into things we expect people will appreciate, and to get what we need from those around us.
High social coherence is both a skill and a choice. The skill consists of your experience interacting with others, which comes with age, and your emotional intelligence, which comes with practice (more on building your EQ in future articles. It’s also a choice.
Sometimes social coherence is low, because we’re around people whose reactions are volatile and unpredictable, or in groups with different social norms and values than us. In either of these situations, it’s important to accept it in the short term, and either adapt your expectations, or find new people to spend time with in the long term.
Quickly consider the last time you were frustrated by someone’s reaction because it “didn’t seem reasonable”. How often does this happen for you, and is it usually with the same one or two people, or does it seem to happen randomly?
Social Contribution: “I am valuable to my communities.”
High social contribution results from the belief that what we have to offer to the world is valuable to the people around us. This could be the way we act and make people feel, the work we do through our profession, or the thoughts we share with those around us. This belief is both about our long-term intrinsic value (my natural abilities), long-term extrinsic value (the change we’ll create in the world), and day-to-day value (the things I spend my time on during an average day are valued by the people around me).
When we have high social contribution, we feel valued and fulfilled. It gives us purpose and reason to keep going, and to keep engaging with our community. Conversely, when we have low feelings of social contribution, it may lead us to feel guilty to engage with our communities, or to ask for what we need from them.
Briefly reflect on one thing that your friends would praise you for. How do you bring that attribute forward each day, or if you don’t how might you in the future?
Social Actualization: “I care about society, and think we are evolving in the right direction.”
Our social actualization is all about faith in the future of the world, and our communities within it. When we have high social actualization, we have a general belief that the future holds promise and potential, and that the world will continue to grow into a better place in the future. We believe that society will continue to make progress on large social issues like climate change or equality, and that quality of life will increase for those whom it ought to. Most importantly, we believe that society will continue to improve for “people like us”.
Whereas high Social Contribution gets us out of bed on any given morning, high Social Actualization gives us the will and excitement to commit to continue getting out of bed and being our best self for all future days. When we have low Social Actualization, we’re less likely to commit to and have faith in our own future, which can get in the way with things like enduring short-term painful experiences, compromise and sacrifice, volunteering, taking risks, and the like.
Ask yourself what is one global issue that you really care about, and how do you think it will be improved on in the next decade? In what small way might you contribute to that?
To learn more about social wellbeing, as well as tools to keep it high and help you get through life when it's low, check out the Resili App for free.