In a society that tends to focus on the biggest and brightest new thing, it’s easy to unintentionally apply this perspective to relationships. People feel pressured to maintain more connections than they can realistically maintain.
In relationships, often less is more. Having fewer, more meaningful connections can help to shape a better You — better than an endless stream of hollow relationships that do little for either party.
Considering that the relationships you have encompass everyone in your life — from your most intimate family members and friends to your professional colleagues and occasional acquaintances — it makes sense to look closely at the function and quality of each connection. Human beings are a social species, which means we need meaningful relationships for more than just idle gossip or a warm body on a cold night. Without claws, fangs, or thick fur coats to protect us, humans instead have large brains, opposable thumbs, and each other. It’s because of our communities and interpersonal relationships that we can explore Mars, build skyscrapers, and waste our precious time scrolling social media.
Our relationships with one another offer real safety and protection, as well as the intimacy and deep connection that are essential for our health. Various studies on longevity, including the Grant Study of Adult Development at Harvard University, noted that meaningful relationships are among the top factors of not just a long lifespan, but also ongoing mental health and a strong immune system to combat serious disease and illness. Feeling close to others releases beneficial hormones and neuromodulators in our bodies that keep us both mentally and physically healthy throughout our lives.
Some would conclude, then, that because relationships are essential to our health, more would be better? But it’s the quality of relationships that beneficially impacts the human mind and body, not the quantity. In fact, having an overbooked social calendar can eat up every spare moment of your time and lead to putting time and effort into relationships that don’t benefit you.
This can leave little time for exposure to meaningful interactions with your highest quality connections. It’s possible to get a large helping of social interaction, but if those interactions lack the intimacy and heartfelt bonding required for meaningful connection, it can be a profound drain on your internal resources and lead to feelings of more profound loneliness. Conversely, spending time with people who fill you up can reinforces positive feelings about yourself, and even your outlook on life.
True North People
The key to forming healthy relationships that nourish you is to choose to spend the majority of your free time with people who your inner compass identifies as being True North in your compass. Although you certainly don’t need to be the same in every way, True North people share similar deep-seated values regarding the purpose of relationships as you do. They also care about the same aspects of connection that are meaningful to you.
For example, if you’re highly extroverted and crave large amounts of in-person contact, you may not sync well with an introverted person who requires a great deal of alone time. Your preferences and values don’t make another person’s differing qualities right or wrong, they simply highlight similarities you share.
Because everyone values different merits in relationships, True North connections can’t be one-size-fits-all. You must inquire within yourself to learn your social needs and who seems most likely to nourish them.
Ask yourself the questions to support your process of discerning those within your True North:
- How do I feel when I’m with this person? Do I feel like I can be myself and ask for what I want, or do I have to hide parts of myself away?
- How do I feel after an interaction with this person? Do I feel filled-up and supported or drained and depleted? Anxious or at peace?
- Why did I choose to connect with this person? Is it because I truly like who they are, or am I fulfilling an obligation, social responsibility, or striving for status or belonging?
When you recognize the qualities that matter most to you, discover them in your relationships with others, and reciprocate them in return, your True North will ring throughout every aspect of your life. You stop chasing relationships of utility or status because you realize that there’s gold to be found in the authentic depth and closeness of aligned connection. There’s no need to be anyone but yourself because you’ve chosen closeness with people who honor your genuine self and respect your dignity.
Kate King is a licensed professional counselor, board-certified art therapist, radiant life coach, published author, professional artist, and creative entrepreneur. She expertly teaches a unique transformational healing strategy that integrates science, psychology, creativity, and spirituality. Her new book is The Radiant Life Project: Awaken Your Purpose, Heal Your Past, and Transform Your Future (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Nov. 1, 2023). Learn more at theradiantlifeproject.com.