Friday, November 9, 2012

Secret 48: Invite A Friend

Make new friends
But keep the old
The new are silver
The old are gold

As social beings, we derive much happiness from interacting with fellow humans who are kind to us. We exchange valuable information, give reassurance, offer a shoulder to cry on, and gather to celebrate:

A shared grief is half as painful
A shared joy twice as delicious
 -     Chinese proverb

If you are a person who places value on nutritious eating, do not neglect the additional benefit of sharing your healthy meal with good friends. When we have friends over for dinner, I always marvel at the invisible, yet incredibly soothing good vibes that linger long after our friends have left. Although not visible, the laughter and the animated conversation continue to fill our home. Even the day after, when the pots have been washed and the dishes have been put away, the positive energy generated by the gathering of friends continues to nourish and sustain me.  

Many studies confirm the importance of sharing meals as a family. 'A family that plays together, stays together.' The word 'plays' can easily be substituted by 'eats'. A family that eats together, stays together. Modern electronics can be extraordinarily divisive - mom is texting, the children are playing video games or watching a movie, and dad is checking e-mails. Turn off those electronic love-robbers, and give each other your full attention. To appreciate the work the cook has put into preparing that meal you just might want to wolf down, help out in the kitchen before (and after) the meal. The social ritual of eating is a wonderful opportunity to gather together with the common goal of replenishing everyone's physical and mental energy. 

While the first step towards healthy eating is to create occasions to eat together, the next one would be to linger. Take time to eat and enjoy the company. In work cafeterias the food is often 'inhaled' and the diners rush back to their desks. Even worse, workers eat at their desk while surfing the Internet.  Be present. Bring your awareness to the taste and texture of your food. Chew (this was addressed in blog 30: Chew). And find some company with whom to enjoy the food.

Friendship is not only invaluable around the dinner table, it is a welcome respite from daily routine and the constant challenges thrown across the paths of our lives. Make the time to meet a friend for sports - for a round of ping pong, some time on the basketball court, to catch a wave, or to go for a walk. Some of the best conversations I have had occurred spontaneously while walking. My friends and I have figured out how to better parent, put never-ending gender strife to rest, and we have even managed to solve a few world problems while walking the dog. Or meet over a cup of tea. Listen, and share. Or plan on attending a comedy show, the theater, or a movie, with one or more friends. Even if you and your friends just sit side by side in the dark, you can share the emotions that are elicited by the performance. Laughing together is sweeter than laughing alone. 

One caveat to friendship: choose your friends wisely. In a lifetime filled with obligations, duties and chores, you only have a limited amount of time. Not everyone is suitable friend material.You are too precious to waste your personal time with people who are inconsiderate, selfish, demeaning or stressful. You spend enough time at work with people that you do not chose to associate with. Even when you are careful about who you befriend, not every moment spent with a friend will be enjoyable. Sometimes friends go through hard times. During these times they will need to vent and will not be the most charming company. Likewise, there will be times when you will need your friends' support and commiseration. A friend in need is a friend indeed! But this is not a permanent situation. Friendships are reciprocal and dynamic. At times you lean on your friends, at other times, they need to be able to lean on you, yet most of the time, you can just enjoy each other's company and walk side by side and laugh and play and face life together. 

Studies have shown that people with close, supportive circles of friends enjoy better health and live longer. Friendship is a vital nutrient for your heart and soul. Vitamin 'F' may not be available in bottles, but is just as essential as vitamins found in fresh fruit and vegetables. The long-living people described in Sally Beare's book - the Symi in Greece, the Campodimele in Italy, the Okinawans in Japan, the Hunzas in Pakistan and the Bama in China - all live in supportive communities that watch out for each other and play together. In your ideal neighborhood, the doors would always be open, friends would drop by spontaneously, and help would always be at hand. A community built on the foundation of friendship strengthens and soothes. The opposite of friendship is loneliness. Which one would you like to have in excess - friends or loneliness? So get out there. Find a club or organize a group of friends who share your interests - play bridge, go skiing, biking, hiking, discuss a book or whatever this may be - and then go out and have fun together.  Your health will thank you for it.

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