Thanksgiving week brought my adult daughter home for her first visit since last August when she took a job nearly 3,000 miles away. While this circumstance alone would have been enough to make this Thanksgiving Day a joyful occasion, we also had the pleasure of being with "chosen family," those special relationships we develop that blur the lines between blood relatives and close friends.
Unfortunately it's impossible to have every treasured family member with us on every holiday, but in these cases it makes sense to treasure those family and friends that we can have with us, while also being grateful for all of our loved ones however scattered they may be.
Research continues to underscore the multiple benefits we reap from every one of these varied relationships. Whether or not we have spouse, children, mother, father, siblings or cousins, aunts and uncles or grandparents—we can nevertheless fill our lives with close friends and other social relationships that contribute just as much to our health and happiness.
However, doing so requires conscious effort on our part. Relationships can't be maintained, or even formed in the first place, if we are uninterested in actively reaching out to others. Thankfully, especially considering how common it is for family to be widely scattered in our mobile society, technology has provided us with tools that can help make this task just a little easier. And while there may certainly be some few who allow these technologies to crowd out their real-life relationships, an increasing body of research into the social impact of sites such as Facebook finds that most people use technology to strengthen and maintain relationships that are already important in their lives.
Researchers have long realized that silence, at least in the quest for healthy relationships is not golden—rather, relationships thrive when frequent communication is set against a healthy backdrop of gratitude for the ability to connect. It may be worth asking ourselves the question: Is my family among those who use social technology as a tool for increasing and maintaining communication?