How to be happy? It’s a topic that draws enough interest to fill bookshelves stacked to the clouds. Earlier this year, Sydney Morning Herald columnist Ross Gittins waded through the sea of happiness literature only to emerge with the following insight: focus on the human, not the material. Ed Diener, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, found the best way to follow this advice is to be attentive to our relationships. According to Diener, “We need good friends and family and we may have to sacrifice to some extent to ensure we have intimate, loving relationships – people who care about us and whom we care about deeply.”
Phoning more often, remembering birthdays and sending letters and emails all serve this aim, but so too does food. Author and nutritionist Suzannah Olivier suggests having friends over for meals and sharing intimate dinners with your partner provides excellent fuel for strengthening relationships. In her book 101 ways to simplify your life, she writes that “lack of time, a fast-life culture and easy availability of convenience foods mean that many families are losing touch with each other.” Instead, Olivier believes shared meals served at home foster closeness, conversation and stability – the foundations upon which good relationships are built. Here are some of her tips for making these occasions happen:
- Prepare a stew in advance. When your guests arrive, get their help in preparing salad while you heat up a fresh loaf of bread and warm the stew.
- Serve olives as nibbles to arouse appetites. For the ideal finale, cut up fresh fruit and present on a platter.
- One of the simplest main meal ideas around is to create a hearty salad.
- Ask guests to prepare one ingredient to bring along. This may include mixed salad leaves, chopped cooked chicken, halved seedless grapes, chopped nuts, cherry tomatoes and shaved parmesan.
- Hey presto! It’s a dish that can be pulled together in minutes.
- Barbecues offer a relaxed, fun way to enjoy a meal with friends.
- Try seafood kebabs marinated with Asian flavours such as ginger and lemongrass. Again, you might ask friends to bring around salad ingredients or a dessert to lighten the workload.
- Rekindle passion in your romance by sharing an intimate, at-home meal with your partner.
- Sensual dishes include oysters with lemon and Tabasco, or peeled quail eggs dipped in celery salt.
- For dessert, sink strawberries into dark dipping chocolate. And whatever you do, don’t forget the candles.
1. Gittins, R. How to be happy. Sydney Morning Herald. 4 January 2006. http://smh.com.au/news/ross-gittins/how-to-be-happy/2006/01/04/1136050483047.html (accessed 22 February 2006). 2. Olivier, S. 101 ways to simplify your life. Cico Books: London. 2003.