It’s the season. Despite the job losses, economic downturns, and everything else, holidays are in the air. This season reminds us to connect with what is important that we often forget amidst our daily grinds. Every culture and religion celebrates holidays, some at different times of the year. Still, all those have a common theme – people reunite with their near and dear ones through food, festivities, stories, and other rituals. A few years ago, in a rare family get-together, I got another chance to remember how these connections and touchpoints help our resilience and overall well-being.
In Nov 2017, after 20+ years, my geographically dispersed family – my mom, siblings, and cousins- got together at our grandparents’ original home in rural Bangladesh to send off our father for his eternal journey. Even though it was a sad occasion, it was significant on many levels. Visiting the ancestors’ home in that rural town brought back childhood memories. Cherishing the family history, sharing the stories of the good times and the struggles, and hanging out with my brothers, sisters, and cousins brought a profound sense of groundedness. During those few days, I re-connected with my 12-year-old self – I went back “home”!
The experience inspired me to look for theoretical research on how family connection contributes to our resilience and well-being.
Family Stories Help Build Resilience
Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush, two psychologists at Emory University, researched the mid-90s and found that a rich family narrative helps build resilient children. Their research found that the more children knew about their family stories, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.
After the national trauma of 9-11, the people who knew more about their families were able to moderate the effects of stress better.
This concept extends beyond families – successful teams, organizations, and countries build a narrative that explains what they are about (Jim Collins, a management expert and author of “Good to Great). These days, the military spends more time building its identity through communal activities. (Bruce Feiler, The Stories That Bind Us, March 2013)
The takeaway? From the dining rooms to the board rooms, and even in the battle fields, the group narratives makes us stronger.
Sense of Connection Beats Loneliness
In his Forbes interview with Dan Schawbel, the former surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy warned us, saying we live in the most technologically connected world. Yet, loneliness is increasing like an epidemic. Geographical separation from the family/community, over-reliance on non-human communication (text, social media), and work pervasiveness have been the main factors causing this phenomenon. Loneliness is not only detrimental to human health (both emotional and physical); it limits our creativity and performance and impairs executive functions such as reasoning and decision-making. In no ambiguous terms, he raised the red flag of the perils of loneliness.
The solution? Dr. Murthy advised, create and nurture the meaningful connections – the anchors. Anchors are those people in our lives who remind us of who we are — our values, aspirations, and worth — even when we forget. We need to keep them close and let them know how much they mean to us.
In Nov 2017, my father, the anchor of my life, gave me this parting gift. He reminded me again that I am part of this vast family fabric that survived the tests of time. I can harness the deep connection with my clan despite the geographical distance. More importantly, it has given me a solid base to connect better with whom I come across today for personal, professional, and various reasons. When Covid 19 hit, my family started regular calls over Zoom and Messenger. We even organized a memorial service on Zoom for our eldest uncle after his passing in 2021. It brought us closer and gave us emotional support – I feel more grounded and resilient than ever!
Let’s use this time of the year to strengthen the connection with ourselves and those who bring us “home.”