Have you ever wished you could control the world with your thoughts? That by imagining something, you could make it come true?
Well, I sure have…and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. One of the most fascinating things about studying psychology is discovering how much our thoughts really can influence our reality. Often it’s because our beliefs influence our behavior, which influences other people’s thoughts and behavior. This is most likely why positive thinking and stating intentions aloud works – you seem confident, and others know your goals, so they’re more likely to help you achieve them than if you’d been pessimistic in your thinking. But what’s truly amazing is how our own, subjective thoughts – and just those thoughts – can influence our well-being.
The placebo effect, for example, has a surprising power that it only now beginning to be studied in depth. If you believe that doing some particular thing will help your headache or irritable bowel syndrome or depression, you might actually feel physical relief from your symptoms after doing it. (This is why proper clinical drug studies always compare the effects of a new drug against the effects of a placebo treatment.) On the flip side, we have the nocebo effect – if you believe something you did will make your condition worse, you’re likely to feel like it did.
Not surprisingly, then, our subjective beliefs also turn out to be the key to reaping the physical and mental benefits of social connection. If you believe that you are connected to others in a meaningful and rewarding way, you will feel and experience the psychological and physiological benefits of connection…even if you’re not actually as connected as you think you are.
Studies have shown that your own internal feelings about whether you are connected to others (what the research calls “perceived support”) are what determine whether you thrive or suffer. And the evidence suggests that perceived support more consistently predicts physical and mental well-being than does actual, received support!
Let that sink in…. It matters more for well-being how connected you think you are, than how connected you actually are. Your own perception is what determines your fate.
Some people might find it difficult to embrace this idea, as it sounds a lot like self-delusion. But ask yourself: would you rather know the truth, or true well-being? Because when it comes to social connection, you really do get to choose.
Of course, we’re not suggesting that you simply think your way to better connection with others…we also recommend actually nurturing and deepening those relationships, too. But it is crucial for us to recognize how much power we do wield with our minds – and to make sure we put that power to positive use in all of our connections.