Now more than ever, we’re learning just how important building strong connections with others is for our happiness, longevity and overall wellness.
An 85-year Harvard study discovered that the No. 1 thing that makes us feel happy and live longer is positive relationships with romantic partners and friends. But how people should go about developing those connections, especially friendships, isn’t so straightforward.
To remedy this sometimes intimidating process, Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler created Peoplehood, a “workout for your relationships”, to help people find community. The fitness entrepreneurs previously co-founded SoulCycle in 2006, with Ruth Zukerman who left the company in 2009.
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“One thing that we realized at SoulCycle pretty quickly was that people came for the workout, but what they really stayed for was each other,” Rice tells CNBC Make It.
“What we began to understand was that the community that people found, the support that they had with other people, was just as important a benefit of what they were getting out of SoulCycle, as the physical changes to their bodies.”
Nearly two decades after founding SoulCycle, the pair launched their first Peoplehood space in New York City earlier this year to encourage people to improve their social wellness.
Peoplehood offers hour-long sessions, called “gathers,” for people to connect with others. There are several types of gathers: Motherhood, for moms, Couplehood, which are guided conversations for pairs and Peoplehood for individuals to engage with new people and hopefully form friendships.
To get a better sense of the experience, I attended a Peoplehood gather. Here’s what the experience was like for me.
What it’s like at Peoplehood
When you first arrive at the Peoplehood location in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, you’re greeted by a receptionist who gives you an assigned seat and a name tag that includes a personal question. I chose a tag that asked what show I was currently watching (“And Just Like That” by the way).
In the common area, there’s a mini cafe, so I grabbed a warm Matcha to get myself settled. Phones are not allowed in the room where you gather, but lockers are available to securely stash your belongings.
Once the rest of my group arrived, we were given time before the gather to network and briefly introduce ourselves. Thanks to the prompts, I found out their most recent purchases and what they’re secretly good at before learning anything else about them. It was a cool and different way to connect based on our similarities and unique interests.
In the room where the session takes place, chairs were set up in a circle which sort of felt like group therapy, and someone jokingly noted its likeness before the gather began.
Peoplehood gathers are led by a guide, and she prompted us to start the experience with breathwork. Though I meditate often, it felt slightly uncomfortable for me to do so in a group setting but I eventually warmed up to it.
To foster a safe space, our guide shared some ground rules. We were to give our full attention to whoever was speaking and not be judgmental. We were also taught nonverbal gestures that we could use to agree with what someone said or support them in moments of vulnerability.
Once the rules were set, we started with group shares.
Group shares usually call for everyone to briefly answer a question. The first one was pretty simple; we were asked to share our name and something that felt true for us.
I noticed that the receptionist I met when I arrived, sat in on the gather and was the second person to share after the guide started us off. The fourth person to share also seemed to be someone who worked for Peoplehood.
The next question required a bit of vulnerability: How are you feeling right now?
For this, the guide and the other Peoplehood staff shared longer, more intimate responses which prompted most people in our group to do the same. We were all able to learn a bit more about each other.
We then broke out into pairs for what Peoplehood calls “higher listening,” which are three-minute sessions where one person listens, and the other person speaks. Then the pair switches roles. We were asked to “think about a time when you were given a second chance. How did it turn out?”
After another breathwork session as a group, we broke out for one more higher listening share. This time, we were asked to think of a time when we gave someone a second chance, and talk about the outcome.
We ended the gather with one last group share about how we can give ourselves a second chance at something in our lives and closed out with a final round of breathwork.
Peoplehood may be a great starting point for those seeking to meet new people, but I can’t confidently say that it’s an effective way to form long-lasting friendships.
I did enjoy speaking to the people I met at the gather, but didn’t exchange information with any of them before leaving.
Maybe attending gathers regularly will lead to a different outcome, but signing up for a session doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to see people from your previous sessions. You’d essentially be starting from square one.
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