Stumbling on Creativity
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
A warning…I am about to share my own idiosyncratic perspective and make sweeping generalizations that do not apply to all relationships, much less all men—but I think there are some that will identify with my experience.
Once we are done with school and college, men often lose their structured social mooring. Employment becomes a focus and social connection within the work world has its limitations. Or better said, it is something we want to limit in order to create some degree of separation between our work life and our lives outside of work. Some people are good at arranging connections through sports or other recreational pursuits. If you have got that, great—but that doesn’t really fit my personality.
I have fallen into a bit of a stereotype, in that my partner is more socially connected and tends to manage our social calendar. There definitely seems to be a gender split. So as I’ve become aware of this pattern, I started thinking about how to get more involved in actively creating my social life. Since I tend to think in terms of projects (and I think a lot of men are right there with me), I started contemplating how to turn our home project list into social events.
A couple of recent examples…As beekeepers, we need to construct the frames that hold the foundation upon which bees build their honeycomb. Typically, this is a solo activity. However, this year we got it done assembly line-style with our extended family joining in. It was fun to share a part of our lives, doing some hammering together. We also had to move a tree this week to a friend’s yard, which was definitely a job for more than two people. Rather than just get some guys together, move a tree and go home, we turned it into a dinner party. It was a wonderful way to connect on many different levels.
Although my natural tendency is still to plan on how to get things done by myself or with my partner, my recent experiences help me to appreciate the bonding that occurs between friends when we help each other out by working on projects together. Next project, motorcycle rehabilitation…
CINDY WANG MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
Early the other morning, there was a knock on our door. It was our neighbor offering to take away fallen tree branches from a violent thunderstorm the night before. I observed my initial feelings of surprise and quickly accepted. Although we have lived across the street from each other for some time, I realized we have not had any interaction beyond a friendly, “hello,” or wave. I enjoyed the brief time we spent collecting tree branches together. I also became aware that I have been missing out on developing relationships with interesting people just outside my doorstep.
Now as I write about this experience, I contemplate how this has happened. After each workday, I drive home, open my garage, drive in, and close my garage. I am enclosed in the sanctuary of my home. It’s easy to stay within its boundaries, closed off from my neighbors, my neighborhood, and my community. However, I am increasingly aware of my desire to foster relationships beyond my current social circle.
In the summer months, there is more opportunity to facilitate these interactions. People spend more time outside, working in their gardens or walking their dogs. A short conversation can lead to an invitation for a longer interaction. The small effort it takes to start the initial conversation can be well worth the time and energy.
LAURA MARTIN, M.D., Medical Director
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMSHA) defines social wellness as, “developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system.” I like this definition because it does not just focus on human-human interactions. The recent addition of a puppy to my family has reminded me how important our human-pet interactions are to social well-being, as evidenced by the fact that dogs and humans have been inseparable for millennia. The majority of homes in our country have at least one pet, consistent with the high degree of companionship that a pet can provide. The rituals that surround the care of a pet can also enhance other aspects of social wellness. I’ve noticed that since I started walking our new puppy in the mornings before work, my husband has joined the morning walk—ditto for my daughter, and most recently my son. In addition to bonding with our puppy, we are bonding with each other. We are also bonding more with our neighborhood and neighbors. As you think about your social wellness, remember your furry, feathered, scaly and inanimate companions!
SARAH BRANNON, Ph.D., Researcher
What is “social wellness?” Does it mean being popular, vivacious, or the life of the party? Does it mean being diligent in keeping up-to-date with friends and family? Does an individual have social wellness, or is it an attribute of the whole community?
The concept of social wellness includes much more than simply being socially active, and it is not a popularity contest. Instead it refers to one’s ability to interact meaningfully with others, living in harmony not conflict, and engaging positively in the community. It relies on one’s capacity to communicate effectively, and to think of more than oneself.
There are many ways to contribute constructively to your own social wellness and the social wellness of the society around you. A good first step is to stop and think of the needs of others in your community. In many cases the best way to meet these needs is to use your own physical ability and time, rather than a financial donation. In this time of busy, over-scheduled lifestyles it is often hard to contemplate giving of our own time and physical energy. What time and energy we have is limited, and tugged in multiple directions by conflicting demands. How are we supposed to work, raise families, do housework, run errands, pay bills, cook nutritious meals, get a full night’s sleep, get regular exercise, keep up with friends, neighbors and relatives, and volunteer our time for a good cause? Perhaps it is time to work smarter, not harder. Some of these areas can be combined.
Physical activity and social wellness are highly compatible. Physical activity can come in many shapes and forms. These may include activities such as helping a friend to move house, mowing or weeding a neighbor’s garden, walking someone’s dog when they are on vacation, vacuuming the house for a frail older adult, or walking your grandchildren to the park. These are all excellent examples of ways to get exercise while meeting the needs of the people around you and remaining socially engaged. You may find them much more rewarding than going running, much safer than riding a bicycle, and much more affordable than a gym membership. You may also find that it is time efficient, especially if those you help are able to reciprocate in some way. When it comes to physical activity, it is worth being creative!
STEVEN HUETT, Ph.D, Postdoctoral Fellow
When I think back to cherished summer times, there are almost always other people there. And most of the time, there is a meal before us. I have lived in and visited a number of places around of the world. And without fail, in all those times and all those places, the food we shared is as memorable as the words we exchanged, is as memorable as the sights and wonders we saw together. What is it about food that binds us together with such vivid memories? How is it that a meal with others not only nourishes our bodies, but also nourishes our relationships and grows our intimacy?
To show what I mean, I wish to share several snapshot memories from communal summer meals. When I volunteered for a year of service in Australia, the community I worked with would meet on Saturdays at King Edward Park overlooking the ocean, and everyone would bring along food to share, which we ate sitting on the grass, watching waves crash. When I traveled to Guatemala for a summer seminar on cross-cultural psychology, our group was invited into home after home, even though we were strangers. Families cooked us meals of stewed chicken, rice, beans and tortillas and shared their life stories. When we left, we were no longer strangers. When I traveled through Sicily, a couple invited me to their home for a party, where guests from not only Italy, but England, Canada, and Australia brought food, which we ate on their second story balcony that overlooked the city square where a concert was being played. On a trek through the Andes Mountains, our group sat together daily after many exhausting miles of hiking, re-hydrating our dried meals, and we’d talk in awe at what we saw that day and share stories of past travels. I ask again, what is it about food that brings us together like this?
It occurs to me that throughout time and across cultures, growing and gathering food for one’s community was often a cooperative, communal activity that rewarded everyone when they sat to eat what they had grown or gathered. Our food growing and gathering habits have changed, but thankfully the practice of sitting with each other over the food has not. Hospitality remains vital. Communal eating remains vital. I am warmed by my memories of preparing meals and hosting others; I am humbled by my memories of others preparing meals for me; I am gladdened by my memories of communities of people bringing food together to create a meal so much larger and alive than what any of us could create for ourselves alone.
This summer, when the food in your own garden is flourishing, when seasonal food is on sale or when you find yourself with a surplus, seek opportunities to offer hospitality, don’t turn down someone’s offer to host you, and find ways to collectively add your food to others’. And as you sit across from others over your meal, not only will it nourish your body, it can nourish your relationships and strengthen your bonds. You never know how something so simple as a meal with others can become for you a live and lucid memory of warmth, humility, gladness.
EMMA MAKI GIANANI, M.S.S., R.N., Community Liaison
Building and maintaining relationships take work and time, which I gladly provide. Increasingly, I have come to realize the important role those relationships play in relation to how I feel emotionally. This, in turn, affects how I feel physically and vise versa. I am constantly thinking of ways to increase my “social time.” I’d like to combine these ideas with doing other things that I enjoy like exercising, volunteer work, gardening, and community involvement, which really gives me a sense of overall wellness.
Of course, I personally value all of my relationships with friends and family members, but I must admit that it is not always easy for me to be “social” especially when I’m tired or feel overwhelmed with things to do. However, I’ve found that if I take some time to contact a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while, or spend quality time with friends and family, I often feel rejuvenated and motivated to work on the things that I need to get done. I also experience a sense of satisfaction and energy when volunteering and helping and supporting others. I’ve recently decided to challenge myself and am looking into joining a kickball league–what a fantastic way to meet others, bond, laugh, and work in some physical fitness too!
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