As human beings, we crave community and connection. Way back when, living in a tribe was our means of survival. If we banded together we were less vulnerable to predators, able to heal the sick, assist in the birth of new life, gather food for all and raise each other up under guiding principles and shared values.
Still today, groups are how we exist. The creations that come from shared experience and livelihood have built our societies and led to our most monumental inventions and our deepest insights about the world around us.
But why do we still crave relationships?
We no longer need the protection of others to survive — we have infrastructure and complex shelters. You can order your own food, gather knowledge from books and the internet and drive yourself wherever you want to go. You could exist inside for days and survive easily without ever leaving your home.
Doesn’t that sound like a lonely existence? Well, what makes it sad? What is it, neurobiologically, that has us programmed to crave the company of other humans?
If you look at the neurobiology of relationships, what we’re really chasing is oxytocin. That’s the cuddle hormone. That thing that happens primarily after you make love, have a baby.
When an exchange like this takes place — whether it’s an intense exchange or not — an oxytocin release is triggered.
That is one of the reasons that technology is screwing us up.
Don’t get me wrong, technology is amazing. There’s no arguing that. But there are some real challenges it presents.
When we’re texting back and forth and we’re looking at some pictures of other people – we’re getting dopamine and serotonin (and sometimes a bit of adrenaline), two other powerful neuro chemicals, but we’re not getting oxytocin.
What does this lack of oxytocin do to us? Over time experiencing these repeated rewards for our pleasure centers without the chemical that bonds us to other people renders us isolated and ultimately unfulfilled.
We crave connection to, and acceptance from, others. This is why a relationship-based approach in any organization is going to drive results and better outcomes.
When people feel connected to others there’s an accountability to others and to themselves. You’re more likely to stay mission minded when the going gets tough, achieve the goals you set out for yourself, want to help others, take care of those around you and take care of yourself.
We might not think we logistically need other people — but it turns out, we do, on a deep level — psychologically and neurobiologically.
How is technology helping or hindering, and what are you doing to deepen the relationships in your life?