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The Many Mental Health Benefits of Engaging with Others

Health Benefits of Engaging with Others

At the very beginning of 2023, The New York Times—no doubt taking advantage of resolutions season—published a series called “The 7-Day Happiness Challenge.” On day six, the series turned its attention toward making—and keeping—plans with friends.

The headline is pretty straight forward: “Don’t Cancel Those Plans.”

The opening of the article was no less blunt:

Predicting how a future event will make us feel is known in psychology as affective forecasting — and most human beings are pretty lousy at it. “People are terrible at knowing what is good for them,” said Dr. Bob Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, “and we seem particularly bad at forecasting the benefits of relationships.”

How does that play out? Well, Dr. Waldinger notes our decided tendency to go with a sure thing rather than venturing out for social events. He puts it this way: “We’ll think, ‘I know I’m going to be happy if I stay home and watch Netflix but not if I go to that party.’”

He argues you should go to the party anyway.

The Ins and Outs of Going Out

Dr. Waldinger argues that, as a rule, we are just not very good at weighing the potential risks against the potential rewards of spending time with others. We think the social experience might be stressful or challenging in some way. Here is the counter argument from the Times piece:

But interacting with other people, [Waldinger] said, often “improves our mood and makes us happier than we expect it will. Making the choice to go out and be with people involves risk, usually a small one — but offers the possibility for encounters that are enlivening, interesting or just plain fun.”

We are with Dr. Waldinger on this. We have written elsewhere about the value of friendships, the importance of engaging hobbies, and more. Finding a social group you enjoy is a great way to bolster your mental health. But we are also aware that some people will find the idea of saying yes to social engagements much easier than others will.

Easier for the Extroverts than the Introverts

If you are an extrovert—always happy to see other people, eager to engage in conversation, and the like—there is a good chance that this particular blog entry seems a little confusing to you. Why would anyone cancel plans when plans so frequently lead to wonderful things? 

But for the introverts among our readers, the idea that their ability to weigh risks against rewards might be out of whack likely seems ridiculous. The introverted readers are likely thinking that a sure thing (some alone time with a good book, for example) beats a risky thing like a party every time.

But the Times article reminds us that even introverts benefit from social interaction—and for them, the key might be working up the courage to take the initiative. To that end, Jenn Grannemann, founder of an online community for introverts and the author of Sensitive: The Hidden Power of the Highly Sensitive Person in a Loud, Fast, Too-Much World, shares some suggestions in the Times piece.

Introverts can summon the resolve to initiate plans by telling themselves they’re “giving the gift of going first,” Ms. Granneman added. “Send the text, ask the question or plan a date. You might be surprised at how much the other person appreciates you reaching out.”

One way Ms. Granneman does this is to buy two tickets, a few months in advance, to any shows or events that catch her eye. When the event rolls around, she said, “having the extra ticket puts some pressure on me, in a good way, to reach out to my network because I want someone to go with me and I don’t want the ticket to go to waste.” Most people are excited to be offered a ticket, she said, and almost always accept.

We love that two tickets idea—especially since regular participation in the arts provides mental health benefits. “Going first” when it comes to making plans can give an introvert a sense of control over a social engagement, which will help them feel more comfortable and get the benefits of spending time with others.

Don’t Cancel Your Plans to Get Mental Health Support

In much the same way that it can be challenging to convince yourself to make and keep plans with others, it can be difficult to convince yourself to seek out help to improve your mental health. But taking that first step toward improving your overall mental well-being is so important.

At Peak View Behavioral Health in Colorado Springs, you can count on two things: empathy and expertise. We are ready and able to help you address mental health disorders, including those grounded in traumatic experiences, the various kinds of depression, and anxiety or panic disorders. The potential rewards far outweigh any risks (like embarrassment, for example) you might associate with seeking out help. We are eager to help you improve your mental health and to maintain and build upon those improvements over time.

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