8 Practical Ways We Can Cultivate a Community of Connection

In part three of our series on the Surgeon General’s report, we explore strategies for creating a culture of connection.

Two women caring for a baby.

Human connection is a vital part of holistic health. As we recover and rebuild community on the heels of a global pandemic, it has never been more important—or more of a challenge—to connect with each other in meaningful ways. But our Papa Pals and members have consistently shown us they’re up for the task.  

Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The US Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community is the title of the recently-released advisory written by US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy. The first three chapters of the advisory spell out what social connection is, why it matters, and how it impacts individual health and well-being—as well as communities. 

The Surgeon General has a thoughtful plan

Dr. Murthy doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to speaking candidly about the enormous mental health crisis we’re facing in this country. But, in chapter four, he lays out a six-pillar National Strategy to Advance Social Connection and gives tangible, attainable steps we can take to help make a better world a reality in our time. 

Each category of stakeholder—from local governments to schools to technology companies to individuals and everyone in between—is given a specific list of things they can do to advance social connection. The list for individuals is encouraging, because they are steps our Papa Pals and members are already taking on a regular basis.

Each of the eight steps (there are eleven total in the advisory) we’re going to walk through here is actually something that both Pals and members can do, but we’ve separated it into Pals doing the more proactive items and members seeking the help they need.

4 things Papa members can do to advance social connection

#1: Seek help during times of struggle with loneliness or isolation. 

The advisory suggests reaching out to a family member, friend, counselor, health provider, or the 988 crisis line. Here at Papa, we add a very important person to that list—a Papa Pal. We are privileged to hear so many stories of members who were feeling down or discouraged and reached out to their Papa Pal and felt so much better. Our members often don’t want to burden friends and family, but texting a Pal feels just right.

#2: Participate in social and community groups. These groups can include: fitness, religious, hobby, professional, and community service organizations. And, if transportation is a problem, Papa Pals can offer a ride to meet up with one of these groups. Involvement in a group meeting for a common purpose can foster a sense of belonging and meaning—and is a great way to advance social connection. 

#3: Be responsive, supportive, and practice gratitude. This practice, of course, is something that could change the world if every person would adopt it. A recurring theme among our Papa Pals is how good it makes them feel when their members express gratitude. We all love to feel appreciated, and an expression of thankfulness goes such a long way. The Surgeon General says that, “As we practice these behaviors, others are more likely to reciprocate, strengthening our social bonds, improving relationship satisfaction, and building social capital.”

#4: Reduce practices that lead to feelings of disconnection from others. This can be difficult for our members who live alone and don’t have friends and family members close by, but it’s worth making the effort. These harmful practices include: excessive social media use, time spent in unhealthy relationships, disproportionate time in front of screens instead of people, and checking your phone while you’re with other people in the flesh. The more time members spend with their Pals, the less compelled they feel to engage in unhealthy practices.

4 things Papa Pals can do to advance social connection

#1: Seek out opportunities to serve and support others. The advisory suggests helping your family, co-workers, friends, or strangers in your community—or participating in community service. Papa Pals have the distinct privilege of serving and supporting others as a job, but just because they’re getting paid doesn’t mean their service and support isn’t altruistic and important. It very much is.

#2: Actively engage with people of different backgrounds and experiences. This is something we work hard at here at Papa. Our Pals and members are very diverse, and the relationships formed between people with different backgrounds are some of the richest you’ll ever know. Expanding your understanding of those with a different life experience than you is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. The advisory spells out many of the benefits associated with diverse connections, and Papa has reaped those benefits. (link to 2nd article I wrote from the advisory)

#3: Invest time in nurturing your relationships through consistent, frequent, and high-quality engagement with others. This is exactly what Papa is all about—Pals consistently and frequently engaging with their members in a high-quality manner. Not only do our members report the positive difference their Pal visits have made in their lives, the benefits are mutual. Our Pals often receive just as much from their visits as they give. That’s the beauty of genuine social connection—it goes both ways. 

#4: Reflect the core values of connection in how you approach others in conversation and through the actions you take. The Surgeon General suggests a series of questions you can ask yourself as you interact with others: How might kindness change this situation? What would it look like to treat others with respect? How can I be of service? How can I reflect my concern for and commitment to others? We love these questions and they reflect our mission at Papa in a beautiful way.

It’s tempting to believe that these seemingly small actions won’t make much of a difference in the world, but here at Papa we know they can and will. We have a front row seat to the ripple effects of kindness, support, companionship, and connection—ripples that keep growing bigger each day.

Read more in our series on the Surgeon General’s Report

This article is part of a series of articles, each looking into part of Dr. Vivek H. Murthy's report. The other articles are:

A Nation Standing Behind Papa's Vision
Diverse Social Relationships Lead to Strong Communities