Renewal and Reconnection
Guest post by Catherine Price is Miraval’s Digital Wellness Ambassador, founder of Screen/Life Balance
With the holidays just around the corner, many of us are looking forward to celebrating in person with the people we love. But after so much time apart, many people feel out of practice when it comes to real-life interactions. The idea of finally getting to gather with loved ones can sound simultaneously exciting—and also anxiety-provoking.
Scientific research has found that even if it feels awkward at first, in-person interactions with loved ones is hugely beneficial for both our mental and our physical wellbeing. Indeed, one landmark study found that a lack of social connection can be worse for our health than other better-known risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking.
Here are some suggestions for how to make your holidays as fun and restorative as possible.
First, embrace the core message of Miraval Mode, which is that if we want to fully experience our lives—and connect with other people—we need to commit to being with them in the moment and avoiding distractions when we’re together. This means putting our devices away so that our attention isn’t hijacked by notifications; real connection can only happen when we are both physically and emotionally present.
The challenge, of course, is that many of us use our phones as the technological equivalent of security blankets and turn to our screens to soothe our social anxiety. To make this separation easier, consider telling your guests ahead of time that you will be making a point of putting away your own devices while you’re with them, and gently asking them to do the same. You can even set out a basket near your door for people to put their phones in.
Next, provide your guests with an alternative. The fact that we often use our phones to alleviate our social anxiety means that if you ask your guests to keep their phones away, they’re likely to feel pretty uncomfortable unless you give them something else to do or talk about instead.
One idea is to provide conversation prompts. For example, if I am hosting a gathering where people don’t all know each other, I like to put out nametags and ask people to write their name and their answer to a simple question, such as “What’s your favorite thing about fall?” or “What’s your favorite holiday?” It may sound silly, but even just this small bit of personal information can spark conversation—and help your guests feel less awkward.
If they do know each other, you can still ask them to answer a simple prompt. For holidays in particular, I like to make cards with conversation prompts and tuck one under each person’s glass or plate—for example, “If you could relive one particular year of your life, which would it be?” Or, “What was your go-to outfit when you were a teenager?” Or, “What’s a moment in your life that you would describe as having been truly fun?”
Then, as the meal is served, we go around the table answering our questions. At first this might seem forced, but once people get started, you may be surprised to see the directions the conversation takes. (This can also be a great way to get different generations to interact in new ways.)
Another idea is to make a set of cards with just one word on each card, such as “love,” “kindness,” “gratitude,” “fun,” and “joy.” Have someone pick one of the prompts, and then go around the table, with each person speaking briefly about what the word means to them or makes them think of this particular day or week.
If you’re looking for a way to connect loved ones who you are not seeing in person, why not skip social media updates and start a “delight” text chain instead? I came up with this idea while I was researching my new book, The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again, based on a book I read called (appropriately enough), The Book of Delights, and have found it to be a surprisingly effective method for boosting my spirits and connecting me with friends.
It’s simple: as you go about your daily life, make a point to notice things that bring you a moment of delight. They don’t have to be big or profound—for example, my recent delights include a tree with brilliant foliage, a little bird that landed on my café table, and a car I saw that had fake eyelashes affixed to its headlights. Whenever I see a delight, I make a point to label it as such: I raise a finger in the air and I say, out loud, “Delight!”
You can keep your delights to yourself or, if you’d like, create a “delight” text chain with a group of friends: take a photo of something that delights you and text it to the group with the caption, “Delight!” It’s a simple way to harness the positive power of our devices and use them as tools for genuine connection.
 See, for example, http://ccare.stanford.edu/uncategorized/connectedness-health-the-science-of-social-connection-infographic/ and https://omh.ny.gov/omhweb/dqm/restraint-seclusion/human-connection.pdf and
Catherine Price is Miraval’s Digital Wellness Ambassador, founder of Screen/Life Balance®, and author of books including How to Break Up With Your Phone and The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again. She helps people scroll less and live more. Guests can learn more about her work—and get her books, plus more resources and practical tips—at ScreenLifeBalance.com (and @_catherineprice on Instagram, where she does her best to use social media for good!).