work | September 16, 2014

Up Close & Personal: Susan Pinker On Face-to-Face Contact and Happiness

Psychologist and bestselling author Susan Pinker is back with a fascinating new book: The Village Effect. In it, she shows how face-to-face contact is crucial for learning, happiness, resilience, and longevity—and how it can even save our lives.

A recent feature on Pinker and the book in Maclean's focused on personal happiness and the effects of technology on our social interactions. "Our digital devices are fabulous for gaining information, for scheduling our lives, for reaching the people we want and avoiding the people we detest," says Pinker. "But those digital devices have not been good for human relationships, because they cannot engender trust." It's crucial that we put aside our phones and get together with friends and family, otherwise we can't get the most out of our relationships. Maclean's writes: "The benefits humans derive from close interaction—the empathy, the understanding, the firing of mirror neurons that cause us to mimic to whom we are speaking, and the trust all that creates—requires 'being in the same room', Pinker says." But what about those of us who are shy, or without a close network of relationships? Pinker suggests we find new ways to increase our social circles, especially as we age (she joined a swim team for the benefits of collegiality and locker-room talk). “It’s like a perennial garden; every spring, you find you’ve lost a few plants, and you have to fill in those spaces,” she says.

And, as she points out in the Globe and Mail, face-to-face interaction can have meaningful effects at work: "That simple [move of] having a coffee break at the same time so you could chat boosted [bank call centre workers'] productivity by 20 per cent, and boosted their satisfaction in their work by 10 per cent." Even casual workplace encounters can deeply impact our personal happiness as well as the company's success.

The bottom line is this: we need to set aside time, every single day, to interact with other human beings face-to-face. Whether it's dinner with friends, a weekly volleyball game, or a lunchtime walk with a co-worker, there are countless opportunities to take Pinker's sound advice, and make ourselves happier, healthier, and more productive in the process.

To book Susan Pinker as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

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