Connection & Disconnection as Predictors of Mental Health and Well-Being

The International Journal of Wellbeing recently published our paper on the predictive relationships that connection and disconnection have with mental health and well-being. Our two studies had examined connection to self and others, and disconnection to self and others, in the context of their impact on measures of mental health and flourishing. Connection to others significantly predicted anxiety, depression, and flourishing. Similarly, those who experienced more disconnection from others had lower flourishing and life satisfaction while those experiencing more disconnection from themselves experienced lower life satisfaction. These results suggest utilizing different therapeutic avenues for increasing distinct types of mental health and well-being.

Self-Connection and Meaning in Life

In May 2020, the European Journal of Applied Positive Psychology published our research testing the relationship between positive affect, self-connection and meaning in life. Positive affect has established itself as a strong, robust correlate of meaning, but we wondered if self-connection might not play an important intermediary role by turning our attention inward. In two studies, we explored this question: first, asking participants to answer questions to measure all three constructs, and then in a second study experimentally manipulating participants’ focus on their own or another person’s values. We found that positive affect and meaning were not significantly related when self-connection was high – and that, when participants focused on their own values, positive affect was not related to meaning at all. Our findings suggest that it is self-connection, not positive affect, that reliably relates to increased meaning in life.

Self-Connection, Mindfulness & Meaning

The April 2020 issue of Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being published our study of the causal relationships between mindfulness, self-connection, and meaning. Our research found that mindfulness predicted an increase in the presence of meaning, and that self-connection (as measured by our Self-Connection Scale, or SCS) partially accounted for the effect on the presence of meaning, and moderated the effect on the search for meaning. Our SCS demonstrated good validity and reliability across time. The study demonstrates that self-connection, as measured by the SCS, has an important role in positive psychology, and that those low in self-connection are likely to benefit the most from increased mindfulness.

Mindfulness, Well-Being & Self-Connection

This research sought to better understand the effect of mindfulness on well-being by examining self-connection as a potential mediator. We measured self-connection, mindfulness and well-being using two distinct samples and two different operationalizations of well-being. In Study 1, we asked participants about their connection to themselves, mindfulness and flourishing. In Study 2, we surveyed a different sample, again measuring mindfulness and self-connection but this time operationalizing well-being as satisfaction with life. As expected, mindfulness predicted self-connection and well-being in both studies. Self-connection also predicted well-being and partially mediated the relationship between mindfulness and well-being. These results suggest that mindfulness bolsters self-connection, which in turn increases people’s well-being. Published January 2020 in Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology, Volume 14, e5, and online by Cambridge University Press.

Barriers to Self-Connection

The International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology published one of our lab’s qualitative studies, which sought to understand barriers to obtaining an awareness of the self, acceptance of that self, and acting in alignment with the self – i.e., self-connection. Participants journaled about barriers to self-connection for fifteen minutes per day for five days. They reported both internal factors (e.g., feeling lost, negative self-judgment, a lack of motivation, avoidance, and prioritizing others) and external factors (e.g., time, work, ability to meet basic needs, and powerlessness) that blocked them from connection. This research highlights the importance of understanding what barriers exist to self-connection, and on developing interventions to help circumvent these barriers.

Journal Study

One of our research studies explored whether journaling about self-connection could impact participants’ level of mindfulness. During the course of a week, 66 participants wrote a daily journal entry. One group of them discussed their days, while the other group wrote about aspects of their day that related to self-connection. We found that the self-connection group experienced significantly higher levels of mindfulness one month later, and that the group that had merely journaled about their days saw no sustained or significant increase in mindfulness.

Developing a Measure of Self-Connection

An important step in our work, is a recent study aimed at developing a new measure of self-connection. This study of over 500 diverse adults tested a new measure of self-connection developed by Connection Lab. This will allow researchers, including us, to ask new and important questions about how self-connection plays a role in people’s well-being, resiliency, and relationships to others and the world around them. Results are being prepared for publication.

The Role of Values and Value Alignment in Connection and Life Meaning?

This brief online intervention study examined how reflecting on personal values and the degree to which one’s everyday life aligned with those values affected perceptions of self-connection as well as feeling as though one’s life has meaning and purpose.

Defining Connection: Pilot Studies

As a first step toward understanding people’s everyday experiences of connection, we wanted to explore how people understand authentic connection. How do people understand and describe their deepest connections… to themselves, to other people, and to the world around them?

We conducted a series of interviews with people who were identified by community members as deeply connected to themselves or others. Our focus included people who have deep, authentic connections to other people or to their community—not necessarily those who seem to know everyone, but those who have meaningful relationships, even if only with a handful of people or causes. It’s quality of connection we were after, not quantity.

We also conducted two online surveys to capture lay people’s understanding of connection.

The results from these three studies are being written up for publication, and a summary will appear on our website.