Outdoors North

John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

I guess that for as long ago as I can remember I’ve heard people talking about how important it is for humans to connect to each other.

So, I wasn’t surprised that when I asked ChatGPT for a list of benefits to humans connecting, I was presented a partial list of all the good that can come from individuals and society as a whole connecting.

The list of benefits included emotional support, reduced stress, improved mental health, increased happiness, enhanced resilience, better physical health, longevity, enhanced empathy and compassion, strengthened communication skills and personal growth.

In greater depth, the results said, “Connecting with others allows for the sharing of feelings, which can provide comfort, validation and a sense of belonging. Strong social connections have been linked to lower levels of stress hormones, leading to better overall mental and physical health.

“Social interaction can reduce the risk of depression and anxiety, providing a support system during challenging times. Meaningful relationships contribute to greater happiness and life satisfaction by fostering positive emotions and experiences. Having a network of supportive relationships can help individuals cope with adversity and bounce back from difficult situations more effectively.

“Studies suggest that people with strong social ties tend to have lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system and a reduced risk of chronic diseases. Research indicates that individuals with close relationships tend to live longer, possibly due to the emotional and practical support they receive from others.

“Interacting with others fosters empathy and understanding, as it exposes individuals to diverse perspectives and experiences. Regular social interaction improves communication skills, including active listening, empathy and conflict resolution. Relationships provide opportunities for self-reflection, learning and personal development through feedback, support and shared experiences.”

The ChatGPT results concluded that “Overall, human connection plays a vital role in promoting well-being, resilience and a sense of belonging in individuals and communities.”

After hearing, understanding and appreciating all that, I will admit that I often have trouble engaging for long periods of time with other human beings, especially crowds gathered for festive occasions like holiday celebrations.

When you boil down all the talk, drama, perception of slights, social constructs, wants, posturing, needs, bowing and scraping, demands, emotional and psychological investment to a primary essence, the broth can be very thin.

I am much more comfortable in the company of one or two close friends or loved ones at a time. Even then, there is a time stamp on my involvement before I start getting itchy like I’m wearing a mosquito sweater. I feel like I need to be working, being active and productive rather than passive.

I tend to be reclusive and introverted. In the time it takes to attend one “can’t miss it” social gathering, I might be able to read an entire book, watch a couple of documentaries or take a more life-sustaining-for-me walk in the woods.

I know that can be hard for some folks to understand or might even be offensive to them just hearing it. No offense intended. I just need quiet and alone time and time to nurture my mind with new and productive learning experiences.

I have often felt in the minority in feeling like this.

My curiosity, of course, led me to ask ChatGPT what the advantages of not connecting with other humans might be.

I expected to get a response that said something like: “There are none. You should be ashamed to even ask that question. Now, be banished to oblivion.”

But that didn’t happen.

What the ChatGPT response said was “While human connection is generally beneficial, there can be certain situations where temporary disconnection or solitude may offer advantages.”

My mind underlined the word “advantages.”

I was shocked, especially when the response also included a list of 10 good things that can come from disconnecting from other humans.

The benefits list included self-reflection, creativity, independence, reduced stress (also on the connecting list), increased focus, restoration, boundary setting, decision making, personal exploration and coping with grief or loss.

I crumpled inside reading the list. I felt like I was about to cry. This list was like a greatest hits album playing all my favorite songs. These were the things I knew like inherent truths that I needed constantly to live.

More was explained in the ChatGPT response:

“Disconnecting from others can provide valuable time for introspection, self-discovery and personal growth. Solitude allows individuals to explore their thoughts, feelings and values without external influence. Some people find that solitude fosters creativity and innovation. Being along can provide the mental space needed to generate new ideas, think deeply and engage in creative pursuits without distractions.

“Disconnecting from social obligations can promote independence and self-reliance. It encourages individuals to rely on their own resources, make decisions autonomously and cultivate a sense of inner strength. In certain circumstances, solitude can serve as a respite from social pressures, conflicts and demands. Taking time alone can help individuals recharge, relax and rejuvenate, leading to lower stress levels.

“Without the distractions of social interactions, individuals may find it easier to concentrate on tasks, projects or personal goals. Disconnection can enhance productivity and efficiency by allowing for undisturbed focus. Solitude provides an opportunity to rest and recharge both mentally and emotionally. It allows individuals to prioritize self-care activities, such as relaxation, meditation or hobbies, which can promote overall well-being.

“Disconnecting from certain social circles or relationships can help individuals establish boundaries, assert their needs and prioritize their own well-being. It allows them to cultivate healthier, more balanced relationships in the long run. Solitude offers a conducive environment for clear thinking and decision-making. By removing external influences and distractions, individuals can weigh options, consider consequences and make choices that align with their values and goals.

“Disconnection can encourage individuals to explore new interests, pursue personal passions and embark on solo adventures or experiences. It fosters a sense of freedom and self-discovery outside of social norms or expectations. During times of grief, loss or significant life transitions, solitude can provide space for mourning, reflection and healing. It allows individuals to process emotions at their own pace and seek solace in solitude if needed.”

Whoever wrote this, somewhere out there in the world, so it could make it to ChatGPT, that individual understands what kind of person I am, what I am feeling and talking about.

I am grateful to have found this validation, especially via such an unlikely source, that of an artificial intelligence program.

I think I’ve often been misunderstood as being snooty, grumpy or unappreciative or disliking of whomever the present company was. I knew it wasn’t any of those things, but I had no real way of connecting insightful explanation with how I was feeling.

I often describe this column as one hoping to encourage and inspire people to get outdoors to enjoy the incredible world around them.

In writing today, I hope this column helps others find their words to describe their need to be alone, to be quiet and listening only – solitary in solitude.

I know I will be thinking a lot about those cited disconnection benefits on my next hike in the woods. Which of those things pertain to me and which don’t? I need the space, time and opportunity to break it down for myself.

I know that in my case, a lot of my alone time is cloaked in a sense of loss or bereavement that is hard to explain but I know it is certainly there.

Is it an actual mourning still for the loss of loved ones or is it a reactionary response to a past too quickly fading, something else or all these things?

I don’t know, but I want to understand.

I love the rain, the darkness and even the cold – things many people try to avoid. To me, all these things are relative. They are all part of the whole big thing, everywhere, all around.

I wasn’t surprised that the benefits of disconnecting list came with kind of a disclaimer. Reading it, I felt like it was my mom telling me I had to wait an hour after eating before going swimming, or the bothersome potential side effects from taking a new medicine.

But I understand that perspective is important if one plans to experiment with, or live a life of, disconnecting.

The caveat read: “While these benefits highlight the value of occasional disconnection, it’s important to recognize that prolonged isolation or social withdrawal can have negative consequences on mental health and well-being. Balancing periods of solitude with meaningful social connections is essential for overall health and happiness.”

To all of this, I respond by pulling my boots on and slipping my arms through my coat sleeves. I’m going outside – rain or shine – to feel and experience what’s going on out there and to try to find out more about what’s happening inside me.

I think it’s all about continued exploration, discovery and appreciation, like Galileo, Van Gogh, Columbus or Jimi Hendrix.

If given the chance to travel on a crowded bus, take a taxi or uber ride with a chatty driver or get soaking wet walking in the pouring rain, by now, you know which one I’ll be doing.

A jacket will always dry out.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.


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