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  • When the coronavirus pandemic forced much of the world into lockdown, it highlighted what social creatures we humans are.

  • More than half of UK adults surveyed agreed that a reduction in social contact during lockdown made life harder.

  • Social neuroscientist John Cacioppo argued that: "loneliness is an evolutionary signal telling us something is not right with your social environment, and that you need to do something about it, fast".

  • Having really good relationships in your life is fundamental to your personal well-being.

  • And being able to reach out to people who really care about you is so important.

  • So why does maintaining friendships and relationships sometimes feel so hard?

  • We can all strengthen the relationships we have in our lives as well as creating quality new ones.

  • Here are some tips to help you connect better with those around you.

  • The first one is listen.

  • It's all very well being interesting, but it's equally important to be interested in what other people have got to say to you.

  • So really listening helps people to feel more valued.

  • Active listening is a skill, one we can all practice and get better at.

  • When you're in a conversation, non-verbal signs such as eye contact, mirroring and nodding all help create a positive environment.

  • Asking questions for clarification and paraphrasing and reflecting back what is said also shows that you're really trying to understand what someone is saying.

  • Being an active listener means that you recognize the conversation is more about the other person than about you.

  • Sometimes you can feel lonely even though there are people around you.

  • Making sure that the time you spend with other people is of good quality can help combat those feelings.

  • Switch off the television, play some games, cook together, communicate, really talk to each other, and spend that time together.

  • Whether we feel happy and connected with our loved ones may depend on the activities we do together.

  • One study found that our happiness and feelings of closeness are more to do with different types of activities we do with friends and family members as opposed to the relationships themselves.

  • One distraction that often gets in the way is your mobile phone.

  • Very often we can be in conversation with people and we're not absolutely present.

  • So putting the mobile technology away is a really good way to create that connection.

  • Another skill that can help is talking openly.

  • Author Susan Scott wrote: "Never be afraid of the conversations you're having. Be afraid of the conversations you're not having".

  • If there's things that you feel frustrated about and you need to get off your chest, it's a really good idea to talk about them rather than let them fester.

  • Often we might not want to talk because we are afraid we might upset the other person or damage our relationship with them, and sometimes we just don't know how to raise an issue skillfully.

  • So firstly, ask yourself: "What's really bothering me?"

  • You can bring it up in an open and respectful way with phrases like: "I have a concern" or "This is how I feel when..."

  • Listen to the other person's thoughts and genuinely try to understand where they are coming from.

  • Asking: "I am curious to understand why...", or "Why do you say this?" can really help with that.

  • And don't forget to tell people how much you care about them, how important they are to you, and how much you value them.

  • It's also important to bear in mind that you are never going to change anybody, but the only person that you can really change is yourself.

  • So sometimes, rather than focusing on all the things that irritate you about somebody, it's important to focus on their strengths.

  • Another thing that can help you really connect with others is kindness.

  • Studies have found that being kind to others is linked to increased feelings of happiness, well-being, and life satisfaction.

  • It doesn't need to be grand gestures, sometimes it can be the little things that really make a difference.

  • Acknowledging somebody, giving them eye contact, smiling, opening a door, perhaps picking up some litter or making an environment more comfortable for somebody, or a compliment, can really help to make a person's day glow.

  • There are many reasons why kindness might have this positive effect.

  • It can boost our mood, and acts of kindness can help us feel more capable.

  • There is also some evidence that it can help us buffer the negative effects of stress.

  • Kindness is thought to be one of the key ways that people create, maintain, and strengthen their social connections.

  • We're living in a world where we're more connected than we've ever been.

  • But really positive connections aren't just about people who like you on the Internet, it's about people who are going to be with you for the good times and for the bad times.

  • Making great connections in your life is a little bit like building sturdy bridges, because they can help to transport you safely through challenging times in your life.

When the coronavirus pandemic forced much of the world into lockdown, it highlighted what social creatures we humans are.

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