Last updated on 12th June 2019
"Of all the means which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship." Epicurus
"Friendship is the single most important factor influencing our health, well-being, and happiness." Robin Dunbar, Oxford emeritus professor of evolutionary psychology
Last week we talked about "How to live well: 6th meeting - work, balance, practice, strengths & goals". This week was the first of a series of three sessions where our main focus is on relationships ... with today's session particularly looking at Funeral speeches/current progress, Dunbar's 5-15-50-150 social network hypothesis, self-determination theory & our needs for relatedness & beneficence, and the affect dyad exercise. But first we began with underlining the benefits of good relationships for physical health, psychological resilience and also for our overall wellbeing. Do visit the this website's book section entitled "Social networks: an introduction" for an introduction to the very extensive research underpinning our emphasis of these points. Here are the slides I used during this session and here is the shorter 12-slide handout.
Here are the "Home practice" requests for this seventh week:
1.) We have now had a week working with the various options of the full 12-breath practice. It's likely to take a while longer before this comes easily ... so do please keep working at it. An additional choice we introduced this week is the possibility of practising while walking or standing. This can be done fairly 'naturalistically', for example when waiting in a queue or during walks over the course of the day. An additional option is to do the 12-breath exercise while walking with slow, meditative steps. I demonstrated this and we all practised it this evening. Do explore this additional choice for how you practise,
2.) We once more revisited the "Funeral speeches" exercise that was introduced at the first session of the course (the "80th birthday party exercise" is an alternative if you feel a bit squeamish thinking about your funeral). I said at the first meeting that the request is to consider your life as made up of a number of roles - some linked with your relationships (e.g. Friend, Partner, Relative, etc), some with your work (e.g. Worker, Manager, Service Provider, etc), and some linked with self-care - what you do to keep yourself healthy & vital (e.g. Exercise, Diet, Meditation, etc). I personally also put in a role that I label Admin, which covers responding to emails/texts/letters, managing finances, looking after the house, and so on. There are horizontal rows on the sheet for up to eight roles. You can divide your activities into whatever roles seem to fit best for the way you lead your life. You don't have to have as many as eight, but I suggest you explore keeping to no more than eight (at least when you complete the exercise this time). As an example, currently the roles I personally am using are Relationships - 1. Partner, 2. Father/Grandfather and 3. Friend/Relative; Work - 4. Clinician and 5. Teacher; 6. Admin; 7. Self-Care Psychological/'Spiritual' and 8. Self-Care Physical. Now, at this 7th session of the course where we're focusing particularly on Relationships, is a good time to return to the life goals we have for our relationships (for me this involves 1. Partner, 2.) Father/Grandfather and 3. Friend/Relative). Review what you've written for your Relationship goals. Are there things you want to add or alter? At the second session of the course we introduced the "Goals for roles: how are you doing at the moment?" exercise. Please revisit this (or download it freshly again). Now for your Relationship roles fill in Celebrations and What needs work as well as giving yourself an overall Competence score for your Relationship roles over in the right column of this sheet. Are there any intentions you want to make that would increase this competence score for you? If you'd like to, you can use the "Goals for roles: 5yr, 1yr & 3 months plans" sheet for this. ...
3.) We then went on to start working with Robin Dunbar's extremely helpful 5-15-50-150 model of personal social networks. I have written extensively about this ... see, for example the three-part sequence beginning with "Social networks: Dunbar's 5-15-50-150 model (support clique/closest relationships)". Please read through this and start mapping your own network. Note the section that underlines the surprising finding that we tend to be overly critical of the state of our own networks ... be gentle with yourself and, if comparing, compare yourself with people you know who seem 'typically' sociable ... not with those who stand out as especially sociable. Charting social networks in this way and then looking at how we can improve them can be of great value for our health and for our wellbeing. Please put work into this ... it's likely to repay your effort many times over. Remember that in the classic Headey et al research papers looking at life satisfaction changes over 25-year follow-up, two key factors that contributed to long-term improvements in satisfaction were shifting values & priorities away from a materialistic focus to a greater appreciation of the importance of friends & family, and secondly acting on this appreciation and actually being more sociable (especially with closer relationships).
4.) We also briefly touched base with Self-determination theory (S-DT), a key theme of this whole "How to live well" exploration. Remember that S-DT highlights that for high wellbeing, we want to honour our Needs for Autonomy, Competence, Relatedness & Beneficence. In your handouts, I'd included a simple daily questionaire assessing how well we are satisfying our needs for Relatedness & Beneficence. As so often with this kind of exercise, the intention is both to assess how we're doing at the moment, while at the same time increasing our day-to-day awareness of the importance of social interactions (especially closer ones). For more about this, see "Social networks: the value of a self-determination theory lens".
5.) And the fifth request for this week (and we'll continue this into next week as well) is to explore the Affect Dyad exercise. I have written about some of the background research in the post "Paired meditation deepens interpersonal connection: Tania Singer's wonderful ReSource project" and gone on to give more practical detail in "Paired meditation deepens interpersonal connection: how to go about it". Here's a downloadable copy of the background details - the paired emotion-sharing exercise: powerful training in emotional intelligence - and here's a copy of the weekly affect dyad recording sheet. This rather wonderful exercise is a training in emotional intelligence - with all the benefits this brings for wellbeing, psychological resilience, physical health & relationship quality. Do complete the emotional competence questionnaire both now, as you start to work with the affect dyad exercise, and later after you have been using it for a couple of weeks. Note that on the back of the questionnaire, you can see how your scores compare with other people's for the five emotional intelligence components - identification, understanding, expression/listening, regulation & utilization.
6.) And lastly, do take a bit of time to write on your seventh session reflection sheets. There's a huge amount of important territory that we've begun to cover in this seventh session. Remember that we will continue to look at this area of Relationships for a further couple of sessions, so ... as usual ... just put in the amount of time on all this that you can manage without over-stretching yourself.
... and for the next session on relationships, see "How to live well: 8th meeting - nourishing relationships, conflict & wisdom, and attachment".