ONE WORD ANSWER #52
The Chinese-american poet Chen Chen once described family meals as a descent into a “slapstick meets slasher flick meets psychological pit” – words that call to mind the notorious dinner-withGrandpa scene in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. You may love your family, but who hasn’t groaned at the thought of Dad’s bad jokes, Aunt Sally’s tactless insinuations about your stalling career, or being forced into an endless political debate by your home-made-maga-cap-wearing uncle (“Make Acton Great Again”)?
You choose your friends, your partner and the colleagues you go for a drink with after work. Yet your family is something you’re born into – and, at times, it can feel like having a congenital condition that you have to learn to live with.
Family is, however, less a condition in need of a cure than a cure in itself. Our relationships with our brothers or sisters, for example, are among our most emotionally nourishing bonds. Psychologists at Brigham Young University found that closeness with your siblings promotes the development of sympathy and increases “levels of altruism”. Young men who sit down for dinner with their family do better at school and are half as likely as their peers to smoke or drink alcohol – while those who have strained relationships with their fathers have a 400% higher chance of abusing drugs*. Spending quality time with your relatives also releases your brain’s attachment chemicals, such as oxytocin and opioids**, which lower anxiety and feelings of aggression – even if the struggle for the TV remote at your parents’ house on New Year’s Day can border on total warfare.
Dads, meanwhile, benefit from increased psychological wellbeing if they’re close to their kids, and are statistically more likely to enjoy greater job satisfaction† and higher pay‡ as a result. So, whether you’re still the baby of the family or you have babies of your own, your nearest and dearest will enrich your life. No one has a perfect family, but look beyond any bones you have to pick. In the words of playwright George Bernard Shaw, “If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”