It has come to my attention that people in Wanaka like to chat. Dramatically more than the Bagnards. At the supermarket last night the lady in front at checkout discussed at length with me, a complete stranger, the time it would take her to get home and why she needed her bite sized ice creams wrapped in paper to prevent melt. And the lady behind, why she had decided that she was giving up on the dry Gluten free breads until she saw my paleo bread on the belt, gave it a squeeze, and decided maybe she’d give them one more chance. I left the supermarket laughing to myself at how random the exchanges were and how, in the 3 years I lived in Switzerland, I had never progressed past a very forward, initiated by me, chat about the weather in the supermarket. In fact, I was informed (by a local, after living there a year), that a number of members of the local community thought I was mad. Given the fact there was only one recognised ‘mad’ person in the village, and not room for a second, I decided to question this theory. “Ahhhhhh’ they said ‘You try to make conversation with us, using the ‘tu’ (informal) use of ‘you’ instead of ‘Vous’ which you should be using until we have at least dined together” (in a restaurant, definitely not at one of our houses). Fortunately I am fairly thick skinned, and fascinated by the Swiss culture given I have tried, unsuccessfully, on 2, 3-year stints to integrate into it. I thus continued to use the form ‘tu’ whenever possible and studied the locals reactions. It was varied. Local farmers loved it when I shouted ‘ Comment va tu’ as I ran through their fields of cows. Teachers at the local school visibly bristled and moved away as if my madness may be contagious.
Fortunately over time I started teaching yoga and helping people with health and nutrition and started to feel very much a part of the (mad) ex-pat community. I no longer needed to try to make conversation with random, unsuspecting locals to quench my desire for social interaction. But I obviously still did because they were now my friends.
Positive relationships, whether they come from inane supermarket conversation or from your partner, are what make us happy. They starve off depression, loneliness, the urge to over (or under) eat, anxiety, and physical ill-health. In the largest, longitudinal study of all time from Harvard, this has been identified as the key factor they have seen to prevent ill health, and in fact extend good mental and physical states into old age. The happiest participants, now in their 90’s, are the ones who, when physically and mentally in their 50’s had positive relationships, and have continued to do so well into old age. When they retired, they replaced work colleagues with more socially and often more sports based relationships . This study also shows the damage of negative relationships on peoples health, and, most incredibly on cognitive function. Living or working in a negative environment can turbo boost your cognitive decline. It also affects your ability to deal with pain. As most of the participants feel some sort of pain (given their age) this was an easy one to measure; Those who had what they perceived as positive relationships were much more capable of shrugging off their daily aches and pains than those who were living in conflict, or who had grudges they were holding against family members. It goes without saying that the grudge-holder comes out worse off in these situations.
So my friends all over the globe (supermarket friends included), with this all in mind, take time this Christmas holidays to resolve family or work conflict. Turn off that device and spend more time with people who are important to you, do something different with a partner who you have become intolerant towards, be kinder to people who frustrate you, remind yourself everyone is doing ‘their best’.
In the wise words of Mark Twain
'There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heart burnings, callings to account; There is only time for loving, and but an instant so to speak for that. The good life is built with good relationships’