Miller: Let’s connect with each other

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Terry Miller, a licensed clinical social worker, is a school social worker at Weston Elementary School in Greenfield.

Over the holidays, I saw a Christmas tree ornament in the shape of a heart that said “never forget the difference that you make. ”

Every time I saw it, I thought of people in my life that impact me every day. And I wondered, how many would say that I impact their lives? What do each of us do to make a difference?

Human beings are wired as social creatures and we must have connections with others to maintain our individual and community health. That means the things you and I do or say matter.

Unfortunately, according to the Surgeon General, there is an epidemic of loneliness in the United States. A 2023 report states that about half of American adults report experiencing measurable levels of loneliness. Connections with others are diminishing perhaps because of frequent moves, job changes, living with technology that encourages social media involvement instead of one-to-one conversations, changes in family structure, retirement, or aging. Adults and children are increasingly spending less time with each other in person.

We must have quality connections with others in order to maintain good health and happiness. This doesn’t mean that you can’t spend some time alone, as we all need that, but it does mean quality time with other people is necessary.

We must purposefully set out to establish a culture of connectedness.

Good connection begins with how we listen and show interest in what others are saying. Look directly at a person when they, or you, are speaking. Use a posture that is forward-facing and shows interest. Ask questions that will further the conversation and the sharing of the information being shared. This all says to the other person, “You are important to me.” Individuals need to hear kind words spoken. We can ask ourselves what is it about another person that we find pleasing or what can we say that will be affirming to them. Saying someone’s name and acknowledging their presence, skills, and talents is emotionally meaningful.

Connection can be shown through one-to-one interactions, group activities, phone calls, and community involvement. When we smile, say “good morning” and hold the door, or when we take part in a public program, join a community organization or recreational league, volunteer at a school or social service agency, attend church, or interact with another at a store, we are helping both ourselves and others with connections. We must first take the time and then put ourselves out there to reach out to another.

I have a friend who calls me every couple of weeks “just to check in.” This colleague always asks about work, home, and friends…. and remembers what I’ve said over time. This friend’s interest is what makes him a close friend.

Others will share gifts. Gifts don’t have to be expensive. In fact, some of my favorite gifts have been pictures, dandelions, a glass of water, help with gardening, and other things that come from the heart. Other times the gifts have been someone noticing what is needed and then providing it.

Some impactful individuals will give of their time. These are the people who can be depended on during both the good times and the bad. These are the people who may sit and not say a word, but show their love through quiet presence. They can be counted on when an extra pair of hands is needed to complete a project. They will pitch in to help, even without being asked.

We each have the capability to be impactful on other people’s lives. Reach out and make a connection.