Pair bonding, male bonding, human bonding; it's innate and we all have the drive to do it. To belong, to get along, to be cared for and included, to have others who concern themselves with your well-being and for whom you do the same - that's a pretty universal drive, from the family, to the tribe, to the culture.
Basic, we all need it, and clearly, we aren't all getting it. Lots of isolation out there; and just like all those really poor folks who only have money and nothing else, many of us live in utter isolation, even while surrounded by throngs of folks. So, how do we make more connections, how do we create bonds and find community, support and ultimately, the conditions that support happiness.
Well, if you're ready sequentially and you're reading for content and you know me, then the answer is "'you work for it and at it; you create it." Look for the opportunities, connect on the most basic level. If you are going to interact with the same 'stranger' on a repetitive basis this week - the barista, the parking lot guy, the person you get breakfast tacos from, etc. - I challenge you that if you will see them three times in seven days, it's time to learn their name and use it. Or even actually say, 'how are you today?' and be interested in the reply. Say 'see you later!' if you will, because it's true and it connects and insinuates us into each others lives.
There are strong reasons to make these bonds, the most beneficial of which are improved neuro-biological states and elevated moods, and of course, happiness. There's been a lot in the blogosphere about oxytocin this year. That's what we're on now. If you've got 15 minutes to devote to it, there is an excellent TEDTalk where it's described as the "Moral Molecule". I love that, and the talk rocks; worth your time. This is a huge component in the "trust" work mentioned in the last step.
Before Zak called it the "Moral Molecule", I liked to refer to it as the 'mend, tend and befriend' hormone since it is the corollary to the hormone we all know as the 'adrenals' which represent 'fright, fight or flight.' Elevated oxytocin bonds folks; it makes us feel better, it makes us care more, it makes us more moral and better humans to live with. All in all, very important to our gregarious nature.
There is ample evidence, in a variety of species, that oxytocin and another hormone known as vasopressin are critical for the bonding process, especially as it relates to social and reproductive behavior. Both chemicals help create what we know as 'pair bonding' and maternal behavior in experiments on laboratory animals (there is ample evidence that in preparation for birth and then in breastfeeding that large amounts of oxytocin and vasopressin are release in order to facilitate maternal bonding).
And, on the flipside, there are some experiments that strongly indicate that social isolation leads to stress, which is associated with activity in the pituitary gland and its related functions, including the production of and the release of cortisol. Minimizing the amount of free cortisol in our bodies is important, not only for glandular health and overall metabolic stability, but also because high levels of cortisol have been shown to contribute to 'viscera fat', or the deep abdominal fat.
We've now discovered that positive social interactions can increase oxytocin release and add to the feeling of mutual benefit. This leads to social bonding, which provides feelings of inclusion. Those feelings continue to help stimulate and produce higher and higher levels of oxytocin and vasopressin, and reduced stress and stress-related hormones. So, really, you're talking about a virtuous circle rather than a vicious cycle.
Oxytocin is also associated with higher levels of trust. Its role in facilitating trust and attachment is vital to creating trusting and connected relationships, leading to bonding, be that pair, maternal, or social. It is thought that in the reward centers of our primitive brain center dopamine interacts with oxytocin in order to increase the likelihood of bonding, and to reinforce the bond.
So, it feels good to be connected; it changes us and others. It creates morality, trust, beneficial behavior, caring, tending and befriending. And, the good news is that it just builds and grows. You can improve your bond with loved ones and friends, you can begin to bond with those you see regularly, you can choose to find something positive to share with strangers for the five minutes of common space you share.
And, yes, you know it, you can do it with a four-legged friend and get all the same benefits, as well as a being who actually really just loves you and mostly won't even talk back. It's medically proven to extend life and help healing when folks bond with pets - and, lots of furry friends out there could use your love and are willing to help you get healthier in exchange! Help ATX be a 'no-kill city'!
Give thanks and praise - check back tomorrow for Step 6 - Reduce Distractions!