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Friendships, social rituals can help you live a longer, better life
Close friendships can help you live longer

Date published: 6/13/2010

IBOUGHT a teapot. It is a simple teapot with a candle that keeps the tea warm for hours. When I fire up my teapot, amazing things happen. Teenagers emerge from behind laptops, neighbors drop by unexpectedly, my husband will even leave his BlackBerry for teatime.

In fact, I was so inspired I began reading the popular book "Three Cups of Tea." The name of the book comes from the Pakistani saying that with one cup of tea you are considered a guest, two cups a friend and three cups family.

In addition to the dietary benefits of tea, there are many social benefits of a teatime ritual. In the mental health field, we might say that this cultural ritual is one way to nurture or broaden our "support system."

Frankly, I prefer my grandmother's term for this most intimate group of family and friends. She called us simply "her people." And as one of my Grandma's people, I can assure you that her Louisiana "tea parties" were lip-smacking delicious. She served her tea icy and sweet, and usually accompanied by a pot of chicken and dumplings or a hot apple pie.

Regardless of whether tea is involved, having a close group of people with whom we gather frequently is fun, healthy and, at times, critical to our well-being. Without them, life's difficulties may leave you feeling alone and lost in a world where everyone else seems connected.

Sometimes, loneliness is an expected visitor--such as after a divorce or the death of a spouse. Loneliness in other stages may come as a surprise--such as after college graduation or after a long-awaited retirement.

In all of these cases, it is important to have a means of expanding or nurturing our support system. Not everyone knows how to do this, and as therapists, my colleagues and I get many questions.

MAKING FRIENDS

One of the questions we get is: What if I don't know how to make friends easily? First, you need some means of coming into contact with potential friends. Inviting neighbors over for tea is just one of many possibilities.

This may sound obvious, but go find clubs, churches or support groups. You may just need to get out the door.


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Dr. Delise Dickard a licensed professional counselor, is the director of Riverside Counseling in Fredericksburg.