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Humans

These scientific rules of connection can supercharge your social life

Several psychological biases undermine our ability to make new friends. Understand them and you’ll know the secrets to building meaningful relationships that last

By David Robson

28 May 2024

Crowd at Festival

Joel Redman/Gallery Stock

If you were to take one step to improve your health, what would it be: change what you eat, be more active or invest more time in your friendships?

Most people know that diet and exercise have huge impacts on well-being. Fewer realise that social connection is just as important. A slew of studies has shown that feeling supported and loved can help protect you from common conditions, including diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and heart attack. And the benefits don’t end there. In the workplace, good relationships are linked with greater creativity and job satisfaction – and a lower risk of burnout.

The obvious upshot is that we should put more effort into building strong and meaningful relationships. But many people find the idea of supercharging their social lives daunting. Up to now, science hasn’t been of much practical help because research was focused on environmental factors linked with loneliness, such as increasing urbanisation and reliance on technology. That might help explain why people seeking the secrets of better connection often turn to self-help gurus, whose advice is based on anecdote rather than data. But now there is a better way to think about this problem.

In recent years, researchers have made great strides in revealing the psychological barriers that undermine our attempts to build good relationships, and in discovering ways to overcome them. As I explain in my new book, The Laws of Connection: 13 social strategies that will change your life, most of us are needlessly pessimistic about our capacity to build bridges with those around us, and it is often surprisingly simple to cultivate better habits.

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