There is power in numbers. The strength of one penguin is small but with many penguins, they can protect themselves against the shark. One ant is defenceless but an army of ants is a strong fortress. The pincers of many crabs dismantle the power of a predator. The takeaway from this video is obvious: It’s smarter to be in a group. STRONGER TOGETHER! This was the theme of the WA Mental Health Week 2018 that just passed!
The sense of togetherness creates a flourishing environment so essential for strong mental health. Just knowing that others are present with you makes you feel upbeat and courageous. When there is a lack of social support it increases the tendency for depression and vulnerability to stress and loneliness.
We are wired to connect; we connect with people innately. From birth, we are already predisposed to connect. Babies were shown photographs of many objects including the human face. When their attention time was measured, the results showed that the attention given to inanimate objects was significantly shorter than the time given to look at the photograph of a human face.
Our brains are wired with mirror neurons that would imitate another human person to increase the likelihood of being liked and forming a good relationship. We form bridges all the time and with many people even more so if we have not been prevented by bad experiences or hangups or bitter role models in our lives. That’s why we use these words like ging gang, clan, party of friends and team.
Recently, 11 of us most of whom knew one another from our teenage years travelled together. We casually call ourselves the Golden Gang. All in our mid life, with adult children who have found their own pursuits in life and therefore not around us as much, we found one another great company. And with SKI (Spending Kids’ Inheritance) tendencies, we plan holidays abroad and have lobsters and scallops for dinner. Mental health when we are together is definitely optimal J
The 2 optimal benefits of being together is ENJOYMENT AND SATISFACTION (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25, The Bible). When you are in good and fun company, you belly laugh, enjoy better and are more satisfied. Endorphins are released in the brain to cause a high or euphoria. This elevates your mood and reduces your pain. Endorphin which is made up of two words “endogenous” and “morphine” means it’s ‘a morphine-like substance originating from within the body.’
What are some activities that can bring about enjoyment and satisfaction as a group? Enjoyment and satisfaction make you STRONGER TOGETHER.
Recently I went to Singapore for my niece’s wedding. The entire day was enjoyable and satisfying because it was filled with laughter and anticipation. The hardware of the wedding was competently organised by my sister and brother-in-law – the house was cleaned, the food was set, the programme for the day was ready to go, 27 tables in the hotel were booked. The software was the guests, the people the family honoured and loved, who came to celebrate the very special day with the to-be married couple.
I overheard that the family didn’t sleep well for a few nights because of the wedding preparation but no one looked fatigued on the wedding day. Everyone was busy happy and the energy level was high. The energy was palpable and contagious.
Weddings are but one channel of celebration. A friend of mine made it his job to organise Christmas Eve Dinner every year to keep the family Christian faith alive; a family member threw a surprise birthday party for her husband. Spread the joy!
While in Singapore, I went with two friends and my sister-in-law on a day visit to an orphanage in Batam, Indonesia. The orphanage houses 24 children of deprived family backgrounds. The youngest orphan is 5 month-old and she was given up by a single mother; the oldest is an 18 year-old who was abandoned by her father in a hotel. The despair did not drown us into helplessness.
STRONGER TOGETHER, we worked out our roles and went about tutoring and playing with the children.
We witnessed the passion of the Singaporean missionary who invested her heart, time and money into the orphanage. She is simply inspiring! She mingled amongst the local Indonesians and the children were drawn to her like magnet.
“It’s not easy,” I overheard the helpers talking about the sacrifice of this Singaporean missionary. But being involved in a group makes a difficult mission a little easier.
Try it! Get a group to do charity work where you are or overseas. The satisfaction of seeing the needs of others being met is energising. It’s great for mental health!
“Let’s have coffee” and “Come and share a meal” are invitations for grounding. Chowtimes are opportunities to listen and to be listened to, to express anxieties and to have others offer alternatives. The informal atmosphere makes it easier to open up and to go away from the meal feeling more relaxed and socially connected.
J R R Tolkien believes that chowtime can bring happiness. He said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” In this day and age where food is so readily available and affordable, it can be used as a means of bonding and social interaction. Great values are transmitted at tables; friendships are deepened when people share their lives over food. Initiate chowtimes with friends; respond to the invitations of others for a catchup.
I used to say that families who eat together stay together. There’s truth in it and there’s also a window of opportunity for that to happen. Make it a habit to eat regularly together. With young children, make chowtime a pleasurable time. Include them at the table and develop healthy eating and social habits. It’s not as easy to eat as frequently with adult children. Still, make it a point to have regular chowtimes on a weekly or fortnightly basis. In fact, it’s fun eating with adult children as they have broader food choices and can also afford to pay for the meals.
Enjoyment and satisfaction are so essential for our mental health. May we carve out more time to be with others in celebration, charity work and chowtimes. Be STRONGER TOGETHER not only in October during the Mental Health Week. Throughout the year, make efforts to be STRONGER TOGETHER.