December 17, 2019

Why a sense of 'oneness' can help your health

Madison, Wis. — While the holidays are often thought of as a time of joy and family, for many it may be a time of loneliness. Being far away from loved ones, experiencing a loss, being new to a community, or not feeling emotionally connected to those around you – there are many reasons why someone may feel alone, even in a room full of people.

UW Health psychologist Shilagh Mirgain suggests one way to help manage those feelings is by cultivating a sense of “oneness.”

“Oneness is a general attitude towards life, and it’s the belief that everything is connected in the natural world, including our human experiences,” she said, adding, “People who strongly believe in the idea that the world is interdependent have greater life satisfaction, regardless of religious affiliation, and higher life satisfaction scores are generally linked to fewer feelings of social isolation and loneliness, less daily stress and greater happiness.”

Ways to create a sense of oneness

Mirgain explains that there are ways to foster a sense of oneness during the holidays, and any time of year.

Reflect on all of the people involved in creating the products you use

Mirgain shares the example of a package she recently received that included a note, “Packaged by Damion.” A little note created a connection with another individual and gave her the opportunity to reflect on everyone involved in helping to get her gifts sent safely across the country.

Think about your role in the community and as a consumer

Tax dollars you pay support services in the community and help educate children through public schools. As a consumer, the food and items you purchase can affect local and small businesses and the families that run them. Think about how you are connected to your community and the individuals within it.

Put perspective into practice

For those wanting a more deliberate practice, Mirgain offers a few different exercises to help create a sense of connection.

Just like me

When you encounter someone, consider how they are like you. As a human being they have worries and stress, they want to be safe and healthy, maybe even they are looking for a connection with others. Realize they may have bad days as well as good, and through this process experience compassion for someone else.

Talk to a stranger

A recent study found that phones can keep us from sharing even brief smiles with others, or simply acknowledging someone else is there. Small daily interactions with strangers can create a connection and even foster feelings of happiness. If it feels daunting to strike up a conversation with a stranger, consider simply making eye contact and smiling. Start with the cashier at the store or the barista at the coffee shop. In the midst of a busy day, a simple question of “How are you?” can make a difference for someone.

Loving kindness meditation

Mirgain’s mother begins each day with a loving kindness meditation, and research supports its benefits. Those who maintain an intentional practice of compassion and kindness meditation experience increased positive emotions and feelings of social connectedness. Other research suggests practicing loving kindness helps protect against illness and encourages healthy aging.

  • For an informal loving kindness practice, quietly wish someone you meet that they be happy, well, peaceful and free of suffering.

  • For a more formal practice, take five minutes and extend and hold a heart-felt wish for peace, happiness, joy and freedom from suffering for yourself first, then someone who lights up your life. Then for the entire group of people or world. A more challenging practice is to hold those same wishes for someone who you find difficult or even dislike.