"My heart gets excited when I see you because I love you and am happy to be with you."
These words were uttered to me over the phone by a five year-old. She is my best friend's eldest daughter and she never fails to move me, sometimes to tears, with her emotional honesty and straight-forwardness. When I shared this story with my colleagues -- a group of oncologists, psychologists, social workers, and nurses -- one therapist remarked, "Can you imagine an adult saying that to someone else?!"
Actually, no. I can't imagine it. Can you?
The more I think about it, the more I realize how wise my little friend is. The ability to tell the people in our lives how important they are to us and to ask for their time has become rare in our society today.
It's not only that we are unwilling to pour our guts out to each other, it's that we have no one to share our guts with. A recent American study found that since the mid-eighties, the number of people we discuss "important matters" with has dropped from 3 confidants to 2. Even sadder, more than a quarter of the people in the survey said they have no one to talk to about things that are important to them.
Admitting to loneliness, telling people you need them, or expressing a desire to connect with others has become weirdly taboo. It's social suicide to show vulnerability and be honest with our feelings, so instead, we pretend we are "a-ok", moving along, being productive, and filling our time with more and more things to do.
The truth is that we are not all ok.
According to psychologists and psychiatrists, sixty million Americans suffer from depression and anxiety. Loneliness and social isolation are the root cause of many of these problems. Thousands of psychological studies show that socially isolated people are more depressed, more suicidal, and have more mental disorders and substance abuse problems than those who are socially connected and who have frequent face-to-face time with the people they love.
Ironically, the more opportunities we have to connect through technology like facebook, email, and affordable long distance, the more socially isolated we become.
Neighbors email and text each other instead of knocking on the door or dropping by unannounced.
We have hundreds of facebook friends, but can go days on end without speaking too, or seeing a single soul.
We order take-out, shop online, drive our private cars, and have our groceries delivered, all in the name of "saving time."
But what are we saving all this time for? Certainly not for socializing according to the research. The extra time is devoted to work-related things, spending more time online, or in the gym in the never-ending quest for "self-improvement."
This is terribly ironic. Most people, when they really think about it, say they are happiest and most fulfilled when they are spending time with family and friends, and yet, it is the one area we spend the least time cultivating.
When I teach my grief workshops, no one ever responds to my question about what they would want on their gravestone with, "was a dedicated worker." They want to be remembered for being a good wife, husband, friend, parent, teacher etc.
I don't need to cite any more research to make this point. You only need to think about your own life and when you were happiest to see that most of the time, it's our relationships that matter most.
So go on, don't just sit there. Tell someone today (and everyday!) that they make "your heart excited," because "you love them and are happy to be with them."