It’s a shiny new year and phew! What a ride it’s been these last two! I sincerely hope that you have weathered the storms of the last year, mourned your losses (and may be still), celebrated your accomplishments with pride, and continue to have hope for something meaningful going forward.
If you are, however, among the many millions struggling right now, please remember you can reach out at any time, day or night to helping professionals in your community and online or on the phone. If you haven’t heard, the USA now has a national crisis number, 988 so it’s easy to remember like 911. Please use it and pass this information on to a friend. It could save a life.
I try to focus my musings on helping improve social and emotional health and at the beginning of 2023, I would like to offer just one thing, perhaps each month, that is well known from research that can make you happier. They are usually the small changes or looking at the small stuff you already do with a new perspective.
Recently, I came across a new study by the American Heart Association (AHA) that found eating dinner together made 91% of families feel less stressed. I know it depends on what happens in those dinners but overall, most people felt better by having the social support of family or friends while eating.
Family researchers have known this statistic for decades from their own research. It all comes down to stress levels and in general, people who have a caring community, even a small one, are less stressed, happier and healthier. This need for connection is especially true for children, and research on children has shown it can increase self esteem, lower rates of school failure, drug abuse, delinquency, and a host of other emotional and behavioral problems in childhood, which leads to better outcomes in adulthood.
Again, it depends on how the family relates during these meals but if the focus is on talking about one simple thing like, ‘How was your day?’ or ‘Tell me one good thing that happened today or something you are grateful for,’ or ‘How did you feel about something that was hard today and how did you handle it?’ sets not only the tone for the meal, but encourages skill building in being present, being able to reflect and express feelings and thoughts, and practicing gratitude skills—all essential to emotional intelligence, a critical factor in life success overall.
Adults should set the example and share something first, keeping it simple. Just one thing—one question, one reflection, one feeling to share at a meal. You could even decide on a question/reflection/feeling for the family in the morning that everyone knows about before going on about their day so it can have the unconscious play with until you come back together at dinner to share what everyone has noticed. This can be adapted to all ages. Ultimately it’s a way of saying ‘I see you and you matter,’–essential components to all human development.
Adults feel this just as keenly. The vast majority of people in the AHA survey found that eating together reminds them of the need to connect with others and the importance of taking a break. Since 93% of people in this study reported being somewhat to extremely stressed, yet 70% of them also knew they would feel less stressed if they took a break at work with a co-worker for a meal. People even found they made healthier choices when eating with others.
We already know what we need. We just have to get out of our own way.
“We’re so busy,” is the usual refrain but ultimately we decide on our priorities and those choices should reflect our real values or it will cause us a lot more stress. It’s not kids with overscheduled lives that do better, even if those activities are enriching on the face of it. It’s about less stress and more connection. We MUST have it and not the kind where we veg out in front of a screen. It’s because we are wired to connect that doing just one thing different, even once a week, can transform that week, and then the year. What just one thing can you do a little different for more connection this month?
Of course, I wouldn’t be aligned with my own values if I didn’t remind you that playing—also the great connector—is just one thing you can do every day, even a little, to enrich your day, your year and your life. Let’s go connect and play together. If you find you are struggling in any way, feel free to reach out to me and perhaps I can help with coaching or counseling, or connect you with someone who can. I can be reached at email@example.com or www.YourLifeWellLived.net. You deserve just one thing better this year!