Around the Thanksgiving Table
In a week, many of us will be around a dinner table with friends and family celebrating Thanksgiving. Along the way, it is estimated that close to 50 million turkeys will be consumed and certainly loads of stuffing, sweet potato casseroles and pumpkin pies. While the food will be scrumptious, it is the company that will really matter and probably more than you realize. Just look at the research.
Relationships Are The Cake
Dr. Dan Siegel is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and Executive Director of Mindsight Institute. He is an author of dozens of books – most recently Mind – and he circles the world sharing his insights on the field called interpersonal neurobiology. I recently heard him at a talk he gave in Baltimore as part of an event for an innovative and nationally recognized mentoring program called Thread.
Dr. Siegel studies how the brain grows and is influenced by interpersonal relationships. He has been able to combine many approaches of what it means to be human from a scientific point of view, a developmental and practical perspective and how we find meaning in our lives. In his view, it is this integration that is at the heart of well-being and mental health.
Your brain is not your mind, according to Dr. Siegel and his research. Your mind is your whole body, including your brain, your heart and other organs, and interactions with other people. This is the integrated view. It is in this thinking that “relationships are not the icing on the cake, they are the cake.”
In fact, he cites that the number one predictor for mental health, longevity, happiness and medical health is rich relationships.
He is also quick to note that while all relationships are important, your brain responds particularly well to relationships with people who are different than you.
His research indicates that the key to mental health is a combination of belonging to a community of face-to-face relationships along with caring for the body in an integrated way, including seeking exercise, nutrition, sleep and brain health.
A Timely Message
His research and insights come at a poignant time. Following last week’s election, our divided country needs to find ways for dialogue and relationship among a diverse group of people. It’s good to know that not only are such connections good for our country but they are also good for our brain health.
Moreover, anxiety and social isolation are becoming more common in our society. The World Health Organization reports that nearly 20% of Americans indicate they suffer from chronic anxiety – a rate much higher than most developing countries. Also, a hospital CEO I met earlier this week says his organization’s greatest health challenge is not heart disease, obesity or diabetes but social isolation. Community can help remedy these ills. People are missing “the cake.”
Connection as a Pillar of Smart Living 360
Smart Living 360 creates innovative living environments that enhance well-being. One of the key principles is connection. Residents have opportunities to socialize and connect with their neighbors, family, and friends, as well as the community at large. At The Stories at Congressional Plaza – the first Smart Living 360 community – this has led to valued relationships, including intergenerational relationships. We believe that a feeling of connectedness is part of the essence of well-being. We see relationships as the cake, not the icing.
Dr. Siegel also explains how the brain responds to generosity. In a study where individuals could either keep $20 to spend on themselves or give the money away to others, researchers found that that brains of givers emit higher dopamine levels, an indication of higher levels of happiness. So, while you enjoy fellowship over Thanksgiving and the benefits of social connection, you may also want to offer the last piece of pumpkin pie to someone else – this may make you even happier. You may miss out on that last piece of pie, but by building a relationship you gain the whole cake.