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Want More Meaningful, Enjoyable Conversations With Your Family This Holiday Season? Think Like an Anthropologist

Jessica Stillman

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What will you talk about with your loved ones when you gather together this holiday season? If you’re like most families, most of the chat around the table will revolve around the kids, work, the weather, or (if you’re brave or well aligned) politics and current events. These conversations can be lovely, of course. But science suggests you could squeeze a lot more joy and connection out of your holiday gatherings.

That’s because research shows that while people fear the intimacy and potential awkwardness of deeper and more meaningful conversations, they actually make us much happier than superficial small talk about sports or the weather.

This science was done in regard to conversations with strangers, but imagine how much more true it is in regard to our nearest and dearest. Humans have a deep need to link the past and present through stories, and nearly all of us are curious about what life was really like for our parents and grandparents back in the day. What kind of people were they growing up? What historical events did they experience? What heartbreaks? What joys?

We all would love to know those who raised us better, but too often we’re shy of initiating these conversations that could bring everyone so much happiness. To get better, a professor and author suggests, you might want to try thinking like an anthropologist.

Don’t wait to get to ask about family history until it’s too late.

As a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin, Elizabeth Keating has been trained to interview those from very different backgrounds about the beliefs, experiences, and everyday details that make up the fabric of their lives and their societies. After the passing of her parents, she explained in The Conversation, she realized she’d never applied this professional expertise to her own family, and she regretted it.

“It wasn’t until after my parents died, though, that I wondered whether I really knew them in a deep, rich, and nuanced way. And I realized that I’d never asked them about the formative periods of their lives, their childhoods and teenage years. What…

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Jessica Stillman

Top Inc.com columnist/ Editor/ Ghostwriter. Book lover. Travel fiend. Nap enthusiast. https://jessicastillman.com/