We are social creatures: how connections help us thrive

The biggest challenge I encountered when moving to Canada on my own four years ago was my sense of loneliness and isolation. Even though I did meet lots of people, I realized that creating deep friendships would take more time than I anticipated. Most people already seemed to have their circle of friends and didn’t seem very interested in making new connections. After a few failed attempts, I became quite disillusioned and slowly lost hope in ever being able to create a network of friends.

During my first years, I was often Skyping or texting with friends and family I had left behind, which always provided me with some comfort. However, I was also aware that I couldn’t merely rely on the support of people that lived thousands of kilometres away. I needed to start settling in and creating my own community of friends here in Canada. Most, importantly, I needed to find hope and motivation again.

Wired to connect
Thanks to recent research in neuroscience, we know that human beings are wired for connection since birth. It is not so much a choice; it is more a basic human need. We are social creatures and survive best when in groups. Moreover, research shows that we cannot reach our full potential unless we are in healthy relationships with others. Since social connection is key to our survival and happiness, it is vital that immigrants moving to a new country find people to connect with. And so I did.

Get out of your comfort zone
My first lesson was to become more proactive in connecting with people. Instead of waiting for people to reach out and invite me out, I decided that I would make the first step myself. I never considered myself an extroverted person, but I realized that it was time to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone. The passivity or hopelessness I had grown into wasn’t serving me anymore and a change needed to happen. Instead of being angry at others for not connecting with me, I needed to start working with myself.

Therefore, I decided to start doing activities that make me feel good. Since I had always had a passion for dancing, I started taking salsa and kizomba classes, which brought me a lot of joy, excitement and positivity. When I surrounded myself with Latin music and dance, it would automatically shift my energy, and I would become more open to exchanging a few smiles, approaching people and initiating conversations.

It is when I found myself in my own element, feeling joyful and happy, that I found it easiest to connect with other people. The rest just naturally followed. I started creating connections and friendships, and, simultaneously, I started feeling more at home in Vancouver. So, what is your hobby? What is your passion? What activity could you undertake that would help you create meaningful connections with others?

An immigrant from Switzerland, Nicole Gfeller is a life coach, counsellor and art therapist. Her counselling business in Vancouver aims to empower other immigrants who may be going through difficult times in settling down in Canada. Visit her website nicolegfeller.com or email her at info@nicolegfeller.com. 

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