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  • The Power of Human Connection

    Human connections are powerful, and they’re a large part of the recipe for mental fitness.

    The pandemic has made me realize how much we need them. I think the lack of those connections is part of the reason why so many people have been struggling since this all started.

    Research confirms this. Over and over, life has taught me it’s true.  

    Back in my 20s, one of my best friends had an unexpected and tough break-up. Suddenly, his vacation home became empty. He asked me if I could find a few days to hang out at his parents home on Lake Washington.

    We water skied and played on the lake — just like we had done growing up. He was hurting badly. Suddenly a serious relationship had ended.

    Eventually we got bored and invented a game with two canoe paddles and a tennis ball. We successfully passed it back and forth 67 times without it hitting the ground. It took hours to set the record. It turns out the curves of the paddle make it harder to control where the ball goes.

    Years later when our families got together, he yelled up. 

    “Remember the record?”

    “Yep, it’s 67. Are we breaking it today?”

    My wife chimed in. “You boys are so dumb,” she said. “Why do you remember that?”

    We remember because it was an important moment in our friendship. There’s only so much you can say. You can tell them it sucks. Or you can talk about what happened and what’s going to happen. Sometimes being there is all you can do.

    Without saying it, it was my way of showing love. There were times where he did the same for me. He and others in our friend circle were just there. As parents and adults, we have the maturity to acknowledge that now.    

    My hope in telling this story is that it helps my son and his generation to experience this kind of connection. I hope they not only show it, but they will be able to say it with little fear of being viewed as soft. The mental toughness myths often scare us into thinking it does.

    Mental fitness means having an awareness of what you are feeling, and knowing what you need to accept it and move through it. It may mean being able to share it with others. Sometimes, just saying out loud what’s in your head can help you realize all of that.

    We know that in general, it has become easier for us to be connected with each other. As with anything in life, there are positives and negatives to it. The positive is we would have had to shut down much more during the pandemic than we did. The negative is we are less likely to sit down with someone and connect. In-person connections create so much more depth than conversations over Zoom, on the phone or through text messages. 

    Several years ago, my wife had a benign tumor the size of grapefruit removed from her chest.  For about 10 days, we didn’t know what it was. It was scary — especially since she is a childhood cancer survivor. I knew I needed to help and support her. My family and my friends were there. I got out of my head when they were there to talk and spend time with me, even if we did not talk about what was happening. It really is an important part of mental fitness. 

    If you want to learn more about this, check out this TED Talk by Johann Hari. He also wrote a great book.

    Keep in mind, however, that he is not saying you just need to have more friends. He is saying it’s a part of what may be contributing to some people’s mental health struggles.