The Covid-19 lockdown measures have thrown into sharp focus what it means to us not to be able to meet people who are important to us. In 1938 a longitudinal study, the Harvard Grant Study began to study the lives including their relationships of two hundred and sixty-eight male undergraduate Harvard students. The findings of this study stretching over seven decades showed that positive close relationships buffered the men from the difficulties in their lives especially as they got older. Being in a securely attached relationship in their eighties helped the men stay sharper in memory. The people who retired happily made concrete efforts to link with new people in their retirement. The message from psychological research is clear: relationships and a keen sense of connection with others is important for our wellbeing.
Eye contact as a way of establishing connection
Making eye contact is an important way of connecting with other people. Look Beyond Borders: A Four Minute Experiment on YouTube is a fascinating illustration of the impact of eye contact in terms of communication. We’ve all probably been guilty of getting distracted especially by our phones during conversation with others. Try really seeing someone when you’re engaged in a conversation, focusing less on what you want to say next and more on being curious about the other person.
Reconnecting with someone
In 1994, at the age of 73, Alvin Straight drove his lawnmower (at five miles per hour) for 240 miles across the states of Iowa and Wisconsin to see his 80-year-old estranged brother, who had recently had a stroke. Alvin had been refused a driving licence as his eyesight was poor. The journey took six weeks. The David Lynch film The Straight Story, based on the story of Alvin Straight, became a critical success. The extraordinary journey is a testament of endurance, love and longing for reconnection.
Reconnecting with those who have been important in our lives can be a very positive and often healing experience. Especially during these difficult times when we are all sensing a physical disconnection from others it might be a good time to think of someone you haven’t seen in a long time but whom you would love to see again. What would it be like to reconnect now? With social media it can be surprisingly easy to find people with whom you have lost touch. Are you prepared to take the first step?
Writing about our connections with other people
Reflecting on our relationships through writing can help us gain a greater sense of perspective especially if the relationship has thrown up difficult emotions such as anger or grief. Writing can also help us appreciate the value of our close connections and give us a sense of our own history and connection with our family.
Writing the story of where you come from
Psychologists Robyn Fivush and Marshall Duke have explored the value of knowing family narratives for the self-image of children. For example, family stories about parents’ experience as children and teenagers help place the child in an intergenerational context. The stories also function to create and maintain emotional bonds among family members. Such stories can extend back to stories about previous generations helping people to see how they are partially defined by the experience of their parents and those of previous generations. Hearing stories from the past can also provide powerful frameworks and perspectives for understanding our own experiences.
A lot of family stories tend to be passed on orally, recalled at funerals, weddings and other family occasions. During the lockdown we all probably have more time to reflect on and perhaps write about our own story.
So why not try writing from one of the following prompts:
What is the most riveting story you heard about your family from your own parents?
What is the one story you would like to pass on to the next generation about your family?
What is the story that cannot be forgotten?
In 2004 two twelve-year-old French-Canadian girls wrote a message in French, put it in a plastic bottle and dropped it into the St Lawrence River in Quebec. They could hardly have imagined that eight years later a ten-year-old boy in east Cork would open their bottle and read the message. Thanks to social media and the help of a local newspaper, the boy was able to find the girls, then aged twenty, and they came to Ireland to see their note and meet the boy.
We all have chance encounters on planes, trains, maybe out walking the dog, while shopping. Have you ever met someone, even briefly, who left an indelible impression and you have found yourself from time to time wondering ‘what if?’ Why not write about that encounter? Where did you meet? What was the weather like? What was the light like? What else can you remember of that time? If you could speak directly to that person now what would you say?
(c) Patricia McAdoo
About Five Ways to Better Days:
Five Ways to Better Days is a guide to using expressive writing to achieve health and happiness, bringing the reader through a programme of expressive writing and other important practical mental health and wellbeing strategies. In doing so it focuses on five key areas of positive psychology:
Gratitude: recognition and appreciation for what you already have in your life
Flow: how to immerse yourself in the present moment
Flexible thinking: how to appreciate other viewpoints and become more tolerant
Goals: how to identify what is most emotionally important and practically achievable in your life
Connections: how to value and deepen your connections with others
In an exceptionally practical way, each section of the book provides the reader with writing and non-writing suggestions, practices, ideas and activities to deepen their sense of wellbeing.
Linking the fields of expressive writing and positive psychology in a new and dynamic way, this book provides a practical guide for both the general reader and mental health professionals in counselling, health and social care settings. The practicality of the book also makes it an ideal book for workshops and expressive writing/psychology course material. The techniques provided are based on psychological principles but also on the author’s own knowledge and experience of the rich field of expressive writing.
Five Ways to Better Days is for anyone who wants to use writing to enhance their creativity and their sense of wellbeing, health, resilience and happiness.
Order your copy online here.