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How to live well: 9th meeting - social identity theory, strength of weak ties & Fredrickson's emotional resonance


    "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main."                                                                                                                John Donne

This is the third in a triad of sessions in the "How to live well: a shared exploration" course which has focused on the crucial area of relationships.  The first of the three was "How to live well: 7th meeting - relationships, roles, Dunbar, needs & dyads" and last week we looked at "How to live well: 8th meeting: nourishing relationships, conflict & wisdom, and attachment".  I tend to use Dunbar's 5-15-50-150 model as central when working with personal social networks.  This week though, we'll add three further ways of exploring relationships that fill in territory beyond Dunbar's model.  One is the importance of social identity & an inner sense of being well connected to others.  A second is the potential strength of weak social ties.  And a third is Barbara Fredrickson's suggestion that depth of connection varies moment to moment and can be found in many different interactions.  I have included a good deal of background about these three additional areas in the Home practice requests below.  

Here are the "Home practice" requests for the next 3 weeks until our tenth & final review session:

1.)  Please continue to use the 12-breath practice ... developing familiarity with adapting it, as needed, to increase our effectiveness, support our relationships, and increase our appreciation of life.  Make sure that you can practise the 12-breath sequence in a variety of positions ... sitting, lying, standing & walking.  Remember too sometimes to use longer practices ... for example going through the sequence (or parts of it) twice, thrice or more.   

2.)  We have worked with the Affect Dyad for a couple of weeks now.  Some of us can set up further practice of this exercise over the next three weeks with other course members ... and/or ... some will teach & explore this Dyad exercise with non-course participants (for example partners & friends).  And remember too that one can experiment with sharing at deeper emotional levels in non formal Affect Dyad situations.  The recent paper "Beautiful mess effect: Self-other differences in evaluation of showing vulnerability" demonstrates what we've already experienced ... that having another person sharing with us in an open, vulnerable way typically leaves us feeling closer to them.  And another recent paper "Suppression and expression as distinct emotion-regulation processes in daily Interactions: longitudinal and meta-analyses" puts it even more clearly "When individuals were more emotionally expressive during daily interactions, they experienced interpersonal benefits such as greater acceptance from others, greater relatedness and relationship satisfaction, and less distancing by others. Greater emotional expression in daily life also predicted increases in self-esteem and relationship satisfaction across time ... Two items measured emotional expression: “I shared and discussed my thoughts and feelings with my partner” and “I expressed my true emotions to my partner.” … For all measures, ratings ranged from 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much) and were averaged to generate scores."  It could be an interesting exercise to score one's daily interactions with partners & friends using these two questions.  Benefits from greater emotional expression are pretty straightforward when it comes to being more expressive with positive & general/non-specific emotion.  With "negative" emotion and maybe especially anger, how one shares one's feelings makes considerable differences to the outcomes experienced (see for example last week's discussion of conflict) and the review "Suppression and expression of emotion in social and interpersonal outcomes: A meta-analysis".

3.)  I introduced social identity theory - see "Social networks: social identity & the importance of both formal & informal group memberships (background)and "Social networks: social identity & the importance of both formal & informal group memberships (what can we do?)".  We looked at our own group-based social identities using a couple of questionnaires - the "Multiple group membership scale" and the "Group identification scale".  Group membership has been assessed in a variety of different ways by different research teams.  These two questionnaires give you some sense of the kinds of questions typically asked, and the abstracts on the backs of the questionnaires highlight how important this area is for health, resilience & wellbeing.  My sense of the literature is that it shows key benefits from being a member of a variety of different groups, both formal & informal, that are important to you and where you feel several of the other members of the group are quite like you in important ways.  We went on to use a further fun exercise to map our group memberships.  This is described in Haslam's paper "Social identity mapping: a procedure for visual representation and assessment of subjective multiple group membershipsand here are specific instructions.

4.)  We also talked about "The surprising power of weak social ties".  Please look through this handout again and experiment with being more outgoing in a variety of different "weak tie" situations ... queues, cafes, commuting, shops, and so on.  How does this go?

5.)  And this sense that we can make real, warming contact with comparative strangers is taken a whole step further by the inspiring researcher Barbara Fredrickson.  Please would you try a couple of her 'micro-moment practices'.  They're very brief.  For the first week, simply review the three longest social interactions you have had at the end of each day and rate on average how in tune and close you felt on the 'social connections record sheet'.  During the second week actively try to achieve at least three micro-moments of what Fredrickson calls 'positivity resonance' each day and again make a note of how you do on the record sheet.  This can help us be more aware of the potential depth/warmth that we can touch on in relationships in so many different situations ... and can help us encourage this to happen more.  See the blog post based on Gandhi's quote 'Be the change you want to see in the world'. 

7.)  Please also take a bit of time to look through the handouts & blog posts of the nine sessions of the course so far.  What has been personally most important for you?  What might you want to take forward, once the course has finished?  Just before our last session in three weeks' time, fill in the relevant questionnaires again.  These can be downloaded from the blog post "How to live well - a shared exploration: course questionnaires 'compassion, wisdom & wellbeing training: course questionnairesand will probably involve at least the "psychological needs satisfaction measure (NSM)", the "scale of positive & negative experience (SPANE)" and the "satisfaction with life scale (SWLS)". 

Good luck ... and see all you course participants in three weeks.



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