Want a healthier, happier family in the new year?

Practice mindfulness and share meals together

Editor’s Note: MAPP (Mobilizing for Action through Planning & Partnerships) is a local process that aims to use and build upon our strengths to improve our individual, family and community health. Health is defined broadly to include cultural, economic, educational, environmental, mental, physical and spiritual health. 

 

The New Year brings opportunities for a fresh start and new beginnings. It provides a point in time where we individually reflect on the past year and think about how we might approach the upcoming year to be healthier and happier. What if we asked this question every day?

As a community we are spreading what can be a once-a-year reflection into an every day, year-round process and are presently focusing on working together to increase family well-being. When our families get the support we need and are resilient, the individuals within families can flourish and the result is a healthier community overall. 

So what are some ways that each and every one of us can foster resiliency in ourselves and in our families (in 2015 and beyond)? 

One of five key resiliency factors for all families is to have supportive relationships and warm, cohesive family interactions. Important forms of cohesive family patterns include having a positive family environment that cooperates, commits to tackle crises together and provides mutual support. It is also important for children to have a close relationship with at least one caring and supportive adult that believes in the child. 

We all know that families are made up of individuals, so it makes sense that the family’s well-being is a reflection of each individual’s health and well-being. 

If you are looking for a New Year’s resolution, here are two simple, research-backed and age-old ways to support your relationship with your family and your relationship with yourself in this fresh, new 2015. 

The first practice is mindfulness. Mindfulness is intentionally observing our thoughts in the present moment and non-judgmentally acknowledging and then letting go of (rather than obsessing about) unhappy or stressful thoughts. 

Another way to think about this is observing your thoughts without reacting to them. If we are aware of the thoughts we are having, we can then reinforce thoughts that we want to be having and give less energy to thoughts that we do not want to be having. 

Mindfulness helps us be more intentional with our thoughts and this results in more intentional actions. Practicing mindfulness can help us be more present in life, rather than shuffling through it blindly. Mindfulness is scientifically proven to not only help us feel more centered and relaxed, but it also supports healthy brain function.

We are fortunate to have so many resources to support mindfulness in our community. Among many educational and spiritual opportunities advertised through the Homer News calendar and on flyers around town, there are great resources available at the City of Homer Library and there are free Mindfulness meetings every Wednesday from 5:30-7 p.m. at 3691 Ben Walters Lane. Call 235-7712 for more info.

The second practice for a healthier and happier New Year is to make a routine out of sharing family meals, particularly dinner. Research has shown that sharing meals is one of the single most important activities that parents can do to enhance the life of their children. 

Mealtime provides an opportunity to share feelings, stories, opinions and experiences — it fosters personal connection and understanding. Dinnertime might be a time to catch up on logistics — who needs to be where and when — but the key for shared meals is that there is a chance for everyone to move beyond logistics and get involved in a shared conversation. 

A national study published in 1999 demonstrated that young children (ages 3-12) having more shared meals at home was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems (University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research). The largest federally funded study of American teenagers found a strong association between regular family meals (five or more dinners per week with a parent) and academic success, psychological adjustment and lower rates of alcohol use, drug use, early sexual behavior and suicidal risk. These results were still present when both controlling for socioeconomic factors and one-parent and two-parent families (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University).

Experimenting with the practices of mindfulness and sharing meals could result in a revolutionary 2015. Would you like to join the revolution?

Megan Murphy is the MAPP coordinator and can be reached at 235-0570 or mappofskp@gmail.com

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