In his book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, former Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy argues that loneliness is the basis of the current crisis in mental wellness and is responsible for the increase in suicide, the opioid epidemic, the overuse of psych meds, and more. However, according to Murthy, social connection is a cure for loneliness. In Together, the former Surgeon General explains the importance of community and connection and offer viable solutions to this overlooked epidemic.
When Dr. Vivek Murthy was surgeon general of the United States he went on a listening tour of America to hear firsthand about people’s health concerns.
That meant addressing opioid addiction, diabetes and heart disease. And one more thing — something he wasn’t really prepared for — the number of Americans suffering from a lack of human connection. Loneliness, he learned, was impacting them not only mentally but also physically.
“I found that people who struggle with loneliness, that that’s associated with an increased risk of heart disease, dementia, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and even premature death,” he told in an interview with NPR.
The lessons in Together have immediate relevance and application. These four key strategies will help us not only to weather this crisis, but also to heal our social world far into the future.
- Spend time each day with those you love. Devote at least 15 minutes each day to connecting with those you most care about.
- Focus on each other. Forget about multitasking and give the other person the gift of your full attention, making eye contact, if possible, and genuinely listening.
- Embrace solitude. The first step toward building stronger connections with others is to build a stronger connection with oneself. Meditation, prayer, art, music, and time spent outdoors can all be sources of solitary comfort and joy.
- Help and be helped. Service is a form of human connection that reminds us of our value and purpose in life. Checking on a neighbor, seeking advice, even just offering a smile to a stranger six feet away, all can make us stronger.
TOP 40 BEST QUOTES FROM “TOGETHER”
“Even as we live with increasing diversity, it’s easier than ever to restrict our contact, both online and off, to people who resemble us in appearance, views, and interests. That makes it easy to dismiss people for their beliefs or affiliations when we don’t know them as human beings. The result is a spiral of disconnection that’s contributing to the unraveling of civil society today”
“When I was Surgeon General, I spent a lot of time talking to people in living rooms and town halls all across the country, and one of the things I started to notice was that behind many of the stories of addiction, violence, depression and anxiety were threads of loneliness.”
“The values that dominate modern culture… elevate the narrative of the rugged individualist and the pursuit of self-determination. They tell us that we alone shape our destiny. Could these values be contributing to the undertow of loneliness”
“Social connection stands out as a largely unrecognized and underappreciated force for addressing many of the critical problems we’re dealing with, both as individuals and as a society. Overcoming loneliness and building a more connected future is an urgent mission that we can and must tackle together”
“People with strong social relationships are 50 percent less likely to die prematurely than people with weak social relationships… weak social connections can be a significant danger to our health”
“Few of us challenge our cultural norms, even when their influence leaves us feeling lonely and isolated”
“Building… bridges for connection may never have been more important than it is right now”
“If you ask people today what they value most in life, most will point to family and friends. Yet the way we spend our days is often at odds with that value. Our twenty-first-century world demands that we focus on pursuits that seem to be in constant competition for our time, attention, energy, and commitment. Many of these pursuits are themselves competitions. We compete for jobs and status. We compete over possessions, money, and reputation. We strive to stay afloat and to get ahead. Meanwhile, the relationships we claim to prize often get neglected in the chase”
“Social media… fosters a culture of comparison where we are constantly measuring ourselves against other users’ bodies, wardrobes, cooking, houses, vacations, children, pets, hobbies, and thoughts about the world”
“Many factors play into… polarization, social disconnection is an important root cause”
“When I think back on the patients I cared for in their dying days, the size of their bank accounts and their status in the eyes of society were never the yardsticks by which they measured a meaningful life. What they talked about were relationships. The ones that brought them great joy. The relationships they wish they’d been more present for. The ones that broke their hearts. In the final moments, when only the most meaningful strands of life remain, it’s the human connections that rise to the top”
“Loneliness is different than isolation and solitude. Loneliness is a subjective feeling where the connections we need are greater than the connections we have. In the gap, we experience loneliness. It’s distinct from the objective state of isolation, which is determined by the number of people around you.”
“Solitude It turns out that our ability to connect with other people is driven by our ability to connect deeply with ourselves. And that can be just a few minutes sitting on your porch feeling the breeze against your face. That can be a few moments spent in meditation or in prayer or remembering three things you’re grateful for. “
“I think sometimes in the focus on deep friendships and on romantic relationships, we can lose sight of how important the small connections we make are with strangers and with people that we may encounter for just a few seconds or a few minutes, whether it’s the barista at our coffee shop or the stranger next to us on the subway.”
“Giving and receiving kindness are easy ways to feel good and to help others feel good too. People, organizations, and societies thrive when they are grounded in a culture of kindness.”
“Kindness is more than a virtue. It is a source of strength.”
“Unlike many other illnesses, what I find profoundly empowering about addressing loneliness is that the ultimate solution to loneliness lies in each of us. We can be the medicine that each other needs. We can be the solution other people crave. We are all doctors and we are all healers.”
“Be very disciplined about dedicating some time – even if it is five minutes a day – to calling or talking to someone you love. That kind of consistency, even if it is just five minutes a day, helps to remind us that we have a well of connection in our lives.”
“We have to recognize that we can help increase happiness of other people by reaching out, and building connections. People have done that for me in my life. There have been many times that my family and friends have reached out to help support me and contributed to my emotional wellbeing, and ultimately to my health.”
“We forget some of the oldest medicines we have are love and compassion, and they can be deployed by everyone.”
“I have long believed that there are fundamentally two forces or emotions that drive our decisions – love and fear. Love has its many manifestations: compassion, gratitude, kindness, and joy. Fear often manifests in cynicism, anger, jealousy, and anxiety. I worry that many of our communities are being driven by fear. “
“Emotional well-being is more than the absence of a mental illness. It’s that resource within each of us which allows us to reach ever closer to our full potential, and which also enables us to be resilient in the face of adversity.”
“If you’ve ever had the experience of being in conversation with someone when they were fully present, listening deeply to you when you’re sharing with them, you know that five minutes of a fully present conversation like that can be more powerful than 30 minutes of distracted conversation.”
“What you quickly realize once you commit to getting more sleep is it can increase your productivity, it can improve your mood. And that doesn’t just help you at work, but it helps you be the kind of person you want to be with your family and your friends and that’s ultimately what matters most.
“Many people feel that if they’re lonely, that means that they’re not likable or that they’re broken in some way.
“I think of emotional well-being as a resource within each of us that allows us to do more and to perform better. That doesn’t mean just the absence of mental illness. It’s the presence of positive emotions that allows us to be resilient in the face of adversity.
“Anchors are those people in your life who remind you of who you are – your values, aspirations, and worth – even when you forget. Keep them close and always let them know how much they mean to you.
“We know that chronic loneliness has consequences. It certainly depresses our mood. And in terms of our health, people who struggle with loneliness also have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety. Loneliness is also associated with a shorter lifespan.”
“Surgeon generals are appointed by presidents, but our work isn’t about politics. Our highest duty to to the public. Our true guide is science. Our job is to speak the truth about public health, even when it’s controversial or perceived as political.”
“A prevention-based society is one in which every institution, whether they’re a hospital or a clinic, or a school, an employer or a faith-based organization, recognizes and embraces the role that it can play in improving health.
“If you use that time where you’re alone in ways that bring you joy and peace, then that solitude can have a really positive effect on your life.
“Touch is incredibly important as part of the human experience. Our ancestors relied on human touch to form and strengthen bonds with each other. Touch can accelerate a feeling of connection and releases hormones in our body that engender trust and build connection.”
“If we approach other people understanding our own value, being confident in who we are, being centered and grounded, it’s actually easier for us to connect with them because we can listen more deeply and we can express ourselves more authentically without fear of being judged or not being enough.”
“We will not solve the addiction problem in America if we don’t address social connection.”
“Sometimes when you get sick and you go to the doctor, it can feel like you didn’t get your money’s worth if you don’t come away with a pill. I’ve had many, many conversations with patients who I’ve cared for over the years about why it’s actually in some cases better not to go home with antibiotics. “
“When I look at the patients that I’ve cared for with mental illness, I know that many of them took years to come forward and tell somebody that they were in pain and that they needed help.”
“Emotions are a source of power, and that’s what science tells us. But many people I encounter have been led to think of emotions as a source of weakness.”
“Whenever you have large numbers of people who are dying for preventable reasons, that constitutes a public health issue.”
“I trained in internal medicine, and I expected most of my time would be spent on diabetes or heart disease or cancer. What I didn’t expect was that so many people I saw would be struggling with loneliness.”
“While there are relatively few extreme introverts or extroverts, most of us lean in one direction or the other. If we lean more toward introversion, we’ll generally prefer less social activity than more extroverted people. One inclination is not ‘better’ than another, but our culture can make it seem as if extroverts have a social advantage. If you’re very introverted, you prefer to spend much of your time alone, and when you do connect, you’d rather get together with one or two close friends than face a crowd.”
Vivek Hallegere Murthy (born July 10, 1977) is an American physician and a vice admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps who serves as the 21st surgeon general of the United States.
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