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Holy Everything: Take heart from high-quality interactions

April 29, 2018 GMT

Ponder for a moment all the people with whom you share an interaction over the course of a week. Family members. Friends. Co-workers. Perhaps make a list. It’s fine if you don’t know all the names. Include the folks you see on the elevator and in the hallways. The people in line behind and in front of you at the grocery store and library.

That’s quite a few human interactions each week, and they are all potential sources of energy and encouragement. Even the interactions that last less than a minute can be nourishing to your spirit.

The name for these impactful, life-giving encounters is “High-Quality Connections” (HQCs). Dr. Jane Dutton, professor of business administration and psychology at the University of Michigan, has been researching the transformative power of HQCs for decades.

High-Quality Connections are the kinds of short-term interactions that leave you feeling alive, heard, valued and energized. They can happen anywhere and anytime. Oftentimes HQCs happen with people you know (a special lunchtime conversation with a friend, a wonderful walk in the park with your grandson, an energizing staff meeting at work with colleagues). HQCs can also be shared with strangers you’ve never met before and will likely never see again.

An example: Last weekend, my husband, Justin, and I went to Quarry Hill for their special grand re-opening event. On the way in from the parking lot, a volunteer was standing on the sidewalk offering a set of binoculars to passersby. “There are owlets up in that nest,” she said, “Would you like to take a look?”

As we viewed the adorable baby great horned owls from the sidewalk with the borrowed binocs, the volunteer shared some background on their nest. A local scouting troop made it about 20 years ago. However, the human-made nest had never been used by birds until this particular owl family.

After the interaction, we thanked the volunteer and headed on our way full of gratitude for the opportunity to see such precious, fluffy owlets. The volunteer’s graciousness and hospitality created the space for an unexpected High-Quality Connection. It was an energizing encounter even though it lasted no more than 3 minutes. HQCs can be very brief!

We can boost our happiness and enjoyment in life by training our brains to be on the lookout for HQCs. In a recent interview with “Greater Good Magazine,” Dr. Dutton said, “My favorite research-based happiness practice is to be alert to high-quality connections that I have with other people during the course of the day. … My practice is to notice, savor, elaborate, and remember these HQCs, which are like vitamins that strengthen me from within.” The more aware we can be when HQCs are taking place, the more vitality we can receive from them.

Not all human interactions are HQCs, though. We all know that sometimes the moments we spend with people are far more draining and unpleasant than uplifting. I am learning over time to release the need to force the not-as-life-giving connections into something they’re not.

It seems far easier to acknowledge the reality that draining encounters are just part of life and then keep moving forward. No need to overanalyze. It is usually a waste of energy. There are too many potential HQCs out there to dwell in the random, puzzling nature of exhausting interactions (which can be caused by a range of factors we will never fully understand).

It’s easy to underestimate our own agency in cultivating the kinds of environments where HQCs take place. Yet we aren’t passive actors who just get lucky now and then with a High-Quality Connection. Instead, we’re active participants and co-creators.

We can open ourselves to meaningful interactions by slowing down and paying attention. As we extend loving kindness, acceptance and positive regard to others, they are more likely to mimic the same posture toward us.

These connections don’t just make us feel better emotionally. Even HQCs lasting only a few moments have had scientifically-proven emotional and physiological impacts like a strengthened immune system, improved memory function and increased cardiovascular health.

High-Quality Connections are one of life’s gifts. Let’s cultivate environments at work and at play where HQCs can thrive!