Stumbling on Creativity
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
While there is a wide array of ways to satisfy our social needs, I personally experience great joy in the combination of friends, family, and food. For many of our dinner parties, our guests arrive to a meal already prepared and waiting to be eaten. But when possible, I find it rewarding to create culinary events where everyone participates in the process. Our recent culinary crescendo was pot stickers. These Chinese dumplings filled with pork and garlic chives take time to make and benefit by many helping hands.
We all had roles – harvesting the chives from our garden, making the dough, rolling it, filling the dumplings, and finally cooking. I, along with many others, was a dumpling sous-chef. Cindy was the pot sticker director—ensuring the flour wasn’t flying too far and the dumpling had the correct number of folds (three on each side). Aside from the pleasure of making something incredibly delicious, this process gave us the opportunity to leisurely catch up with one another and discuss current events—potential new jobs, recent vacations, and family happenings.
Not only were we breaking bread together, we created a space for sharing. When we go out to dinner, we often do not have enough time to ease back into each other’s lives. A few hours spent making a meal together feels like a mini retreat. I have also found that this is great modeling for our kids. They learn the art of cooking while building connections.
I witnessed this in action as our kids and their visiting cousin helped to make a sour cherry pie. I confess I wasn’t actively involved (except for playing the much needed role of eater). After coaxing the children away from a myriad of electronic devices, they were soon working together to pick cherries. (That is when they were not throwing them at each other or feeding them to the resident squirrel.) The rest of the family joined in to make the pie crust, pit the cherries, and get the pie in the oven. It was satisfying to watch everyone work together to create a dessert that would rival any restaurant’s. This has become a welcomed summer tradition.
CINDY WANG MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
No matter how you look at it relationships can get complicated—whether it is a relationship with work colleagues, family, or friends. As more people are added into the mix, the more layers of interpersonal dynamics are at play. Also, being a person who is sensitive to the emotions of others and has an affinity for putting myself in “other people’s shoes,” I can create extra layers of complexity. I find that it doesn’t take very long before I have a hard time figuring out what I want and whether I want it because someone else wants it or I want it independent of others’ preferences. This dynamic shows up not only in one-on-one interpersonal interactions but social interactions as well. It takes focus and mindful attention to be aware of whether I am participating in social situations because I want to, feel obligated to, or want to please someone I care about.
A good example of this came up on a recent vacation with my family. Often, it seems we engage in scheduling or planning acrobatics that can result in frustration and stress. In the past, my goal has been to try to work things out so everyone’s needs are met, but as you can guess, this rarely works out. More often than not we end up compromising to the point that nobody really gets what they want.
So I’m practicing new strategies. I am practicing speaking my truth. I am improving my communication by clearly expressing what I want. And I don’t expect everyone to agree. We are all unique individuals that have different preferences and we can choose our own path. Others can make their own decisions. And if someone doesn’t want to go along with the group, they don’t need to. Each person’s voice is important. And a lot of times, it doesn’t matter whether I got my way. What’s most important is being heard.
CHRISTINE GARVER-APGAR, Ph.D., Research Associate
What is the opposite of “lonely?” The English language is full of wonderfully nuanced synonyms for this adjective, but it turns out there aren’t any good antonyms. Languages tend to have more words for negative emotions than positive ones. Perhaps it is because humans have long recognized the significance of attending to negative emotional states (and doing what they can to adjust the circumstances causing them) for the sake of health and well-being. Whatever the opposite of lonely is – that’s what I am.
In the last few weeks, I hosted a professional photographer to capture a snapshot of my kiddos during this fleeting time in their lives. I spent several days with an old high-school friend from Texas and her young children. My cousin and his family who were visiting from Arizona came over for dinner. We shared another dinner with my husband’s new colleague along with his family of five. My in-laws and sister-in-law came for a weeklong visit. And, of course, we organized countless play-dates.
On the last day of June, as I sat observing my daughter’s swim lesson while relishing the notion that I had no visitors to receive for an entire week, little did I know my husband was frantically trying to reach me to let me know that he had agreed to host an old friend from Albuquerque for the night—along with his family of five. And they would be arriving in two hours. I am embarrassed to report my reaction to this news was fairly predictable and not worth repeating. The truth is that although I love and cherish each and every person I had the privilege of spending time with last month, I had started to become resentful of the mental energy required for so much socializing – mental energy I worried was being diverted from other tasks that are important to me, like finally cleaning out my kids’ dresser drawers! (And, oh yes – work.)
With a little perspective, however, I realize that I will never in my life be LESS lonely than I am now. I am old enough to have a family of my own, wonderful colleagues (old and new), and fantastically close friends both scattered around the country and in my own town. At the same time, I am young enough that I can still rely on healthy and vibrant parents for advice and social support. From a social perspective, I currently live in the best of both worlds. Of course, it won’t always be this way. My kids will move out and perhaps have families of their own. Eventually, the balance of social support between the older generations and me will shift. From time to time, I might even feel….lonely.
For now, I resolve to appreciate and cherish my busy social calendar. I am fortunate to have so many loved ones around me, and there is no question I am happier and healthier for it. So, c’mon over! Just not tonight.
Made to Move
JAMIE PFAHL, B.A., Community Liaison
There’s something weird about my couch. It seems to generate a strong, almost inescapable gravitational pull. It’s like a black hole that I risk falling into every day after work if I venture any closer than the coffee table. Every day except Wednesdays, that is.
So what sets Wednesdays apart? Three things – free pizza, free beer, and as many as 150 running buddies who won’t have nearly as much fun without my humorous commentary. Not to mention, group runs are really benefitting my social life. You can’t just plod along behind someone breathing heavily for an hour without at least saying, “Hello.” (Believe me, I’ve tried.)
Socializing and exercising are basic human needs, and doing both together is not only efficient, it’s awesome! A friend can make miles seem like meters, can make you laugh at yourself in a fitness class, can encourage you to plank a little longer, do one more set of reps, or try something you were too intimidated or embarrassed to do by yourself. While doing the monkey bars solo might feel weird, having a friend to run around with on a playground is just as fun as an adult – not to mention a great full body workout. Sure, I love to go out to eat or drink with friends, but I’ve also had a blast doing things like “Turkey Burn Hip Hop Dance Class,” Pure Barre, and rock climbing dates. I’ve never laughed harder or felt so free dancing with friends, never had deeper conversations than while running, and never felt more accomplished than reaching the top of a climbing wall or the end of a race with a group of people offering encouragement.
I have this saying, “People who sweat together, stick together” (gross, right?!). But what I’m really trying to say is that forging the bonds of friendship in the fire of exercise can result in long-lasting relationships that continue to enhance multiple dimensions of your well-being. The next time I find myself stuck on the couch feeling bored and lonely, I’m going to call a friend for a wellness date. Chances are she’ll need it too.
SARA MUMBY, B.A., Program Administrator
My partner and I love to host dinners and parties. (I’ve written about this many times, so I’m sure this comes as no surprise!) We really enjoy opening up our home, showing off our culinary chops and sharing two of our greatest passions (food and wine) in the comfort of our home with the comfort of our friends.
Although this is something we enjoy doing, it’s hard to get people on the same schedule to make these get-togethers happen as often as we would like. My partner works weekends, I work weekdays and our friends run the gamut in between. With so many conflicting schedules, it’s hard to find the perfect time to spend an evening together.
With this problem in mind, a group of us started the Tuesday Night Supper Club. It just so happened that everyone had Tuesday evenings off and felt confident in committing to the first Tuesday of every month as a standing dinner date. We swap between houses and each guest brings something to contribute whether it’s a cheese they’ve been enjoying, a seasonal salad or a wine or beer to pair with the meal.
I find it’s hard to plan things in advance knowing that my life (and everyone else’s) can be very hectic. But I’ve found success in setting aside one day each month, a day that does not change, and dedicating it to a specific person or group of friends or family. Everyone knows what to expect and without the frustration of making a plan, people are more inclined to make time for it. This has been so beneficial that I want to start applying it to the rest of my social circles. If I follow this path, maybe by the end of the year I’ll have standing, monthly dinner dates with all of my loved ones.
SUSAN YOUNG, Ph.D., Director of Research
Fireworks are pretty high on my list of things I can nerd out on. During a recent trip back to DC, where I lived for three years, I was reminiscing about the mind-blowing fireworks shows I enjoyed every July 4th on the Capital Mall, following a full day of parades, naturalization ceremonies, and concerts by the National Symphony. Washingtonians take their national birthday parties very seriously.
But I was back in Colorado for the 4th this year. Our family tradition is to hang out at Thompson Park for a mid-day picnic and concert by the local symphony, which culminates in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (complete with cannon fire). We were invited to picnic with friends on their shady porch, right across from the park’s festivities. Lunch featured homemade fried chicken and cherry pie – Americana at its finest. My kiddos disappeared with their friends and my husband wandered off to play guitar with his neighborhood front porch band, so I was left to enjoy a rare afternoon of grown-up conversation. Though I knew many of the guests, I realized that catching up with neighbors I don’t see regularly took some effort. What? I was nervous about whether I would remember the names of spouses or what they did for a living (among other silly things). By the evening, I was both exhausted and exhilarated – not because I had exerted much physical energy munching and talking all day, but because my socializing muscles are a little out of shape. But I also felt (re)connected. The picnic was a great reminder of why I fell in love with my neighborhood in the first place. It is a real community and a place where I belong. Like all relationships, this one requires nurturing – so maybe I’ll fire up the grill and invite my wonderful neighbors over to my porch this summer.
JIM PAVLIK, B.A., Program and Policy Analyst
In 1997, a slew of friends from college—and one from high school—gravitated to Indianapolis, the “big city” to us Hoosiers. We hailed from cities all over the state that, unless you are a native, you’ve probably never heard of. We fit nicely into a social theory of young adulthood that at the time was very much talked about: We were an “urban tribe,” hanging out with each other while delaying marriage and child rearing. Instead of going home for Thanksgiving, we cooked each other large, potluck-style feasts. We invented new holidays and had our own traditions.
Of course, over the years the tight knit group we were became a threadbare afghan stretched across the continent (and occasionally beyond). Parts of our tribe now live in Denver, Washington DC, Albuquerque, Austin and other cities. As my friends departed for permanent residences far from our tribal home, I alternated playing the parts of itinerant scholar and prodigal son—moving from Indianapolis to New York and back—to Mexico and back—to Tucson and back—to DC and back—to Tucson again—and finally to Denver. (And I do mean finally.)
The last two years, in terms of my social wellness, have been difficult. I moved to Tucson (the second time) to support my significant other on her quest to finish her doctorate and we both knew we were only going to live there a year. As a result, it was hard to make the emotional commitments necessary for lasting friendships, which leads me to an important point.
Friendships are such an obvious and natural part of life that those of us who “prescribe” social wellness forget how much work it can take. College and the travails of my twenties formed and forged the relationships I needed without much effort on my part. Since then, making friends has often been tiring work. As a natural introvert, I can feel exhausted at the prospect of the trials and errors it takes to find people I can count as friends.
However, a piece of advice I learned a long time back was “Don’t be ‘interesting’; be ‘interested.’” This has led me to do things I enjoy while creating the opportunity to enjoy the people I’m with while doing it. I have joined a few biking and hiking Meet-Up groups, for example. I have fun, and, if I’ve met people while out, that’s been a bonus.
In previous posts I have focused on the therapeutic aspects of fun, but it’s worth keeping mind that there can be a lot of pain and hard work that oftentimes precedes our ability to participate in that fun. Finding friends in my new city has been difficult, but I’m finally starting to feel at home.
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