I love sunflowers, especially after a summer holiday in Umbria, Italy, when I would walk past vibrant fields of them daily and noticed how they always turned to face the sun.
Recently, I learned that sunflowers turn to each other on cloudy days so that they can share their energy until the next sunny day. Then, last week, I read that a team of researchers at the University of Alberta has found that sunflower plants send fewer roots into nutrient-rich patches of soil when another sunflower is attempting to access the same patch.
I, for one, have looked at plants in the garden or in fields and never imagined that they have a collective form of communication. This underground reaction that has been documented shows that not only are sunflower plants aware of other sunflower plants but also that they behave in a way that helps the other gain the most benefit from their surroundings.
How humbling is this? If a plant, albeit a beautiful one that we have admired in art for years, can work with its neighbours for the benefit of all then why can’t we?
Late last year, I shared on my radio show some advice about combatting loneliness.
A study estimated that over 40% of us will feel the aching pangs of loneliness at some point in our lives and that there are 1.2 million chronically lonely people in the UK. It further revealed that over nine million people in the UK across all adult ages – more than the population of London – are either always or often lonely. Yet despite how common loneliness is, few people are fully aware of the dramatic ways in which it impacts us.
Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness is worse for you than obesity. Lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease, and depression.
Social interaction to create a sense of wellbeing is hardwired into all of us. Our primary human need is for connection. Our primary (and primeval) fear is of rejection, which is why we punish people by separating them from others in ways such as solitary confinement, exile, marooning, or ignoring them by sending them to Coventry. Sadly, Action for Children has found that 43% of 17 – 25-year-olds who used their service had experienced problems with loneliness, and that of this same group less than half said they felt loved.
So, let’s create a sunflower moment for all those around us every day. Look your children in the eye, listen to them when they tell you about their day and hug them. Visit a lonely neighbour and ask if you can share a meal where you have cooked too much or just drop by for a cuppa and a chat. Determine to listen to and not interrupt your spouse, loved one or even work colleague for a minute every day. Build up the time day by day until you can listen for several minutes and truly hear them. This is a great gift to them. It is like you are spreading out your roots into fertile soil to help them grow and thrive.
In short. Be like a sunflower. It will make a more beautiful world.