Day 2: The Secret Power of the 8-Minute Phone Call

I just had an eight-minute call with my good friend Tina, whom I’ve known for over three decades. I could never seem to connect with her (she has a very demanding job) until I sent her a text last week proposing an eight-minute phone call.

That seems weird, she wrote back.

Come on, I wheedled. You can do it. The president of the United States could probably do eight minutes! I promise not to go long. Name a time.

At the appointed hour, I gave her a ring. In short order, we talked about our mothers’ health, made birthday plans, gossiped about a friend who abruptly quit his job and moved to a tiny Mexican town, traded book recommendations and explored the possibility of an afterlife (verdict: we’re not sure). Intently focused, we knocked out subject after subject, before Tina announced that our eight minutes were up — and besides, she had arrived at the dry cleaner’s.

I hung up, smiling and humming a little tune. I had missed her, and didn’t realize it until I heard her voice. I was also surprised by how much ground we covered without the call feeling rushed. Our connection was brief, but it was real.

Today your goal is to think of a person you love: someone you miss, someone you wish you connected with more often.

Send that person a quick text asking if they can chat on the phone for eight minutes — ideally today, but if not, schedule it for sometime this week. You can even copy and paste the following:

Hi! I read this in The New York Times and it made me think of you. Want to schedule an eight-minute phone call this week?

After the eight minutes are up, decide together when your next such catch-up will be — and then honor your time commitment and sign off promptly. (Unless your friend is having some sort of crisis, in which case it’s good that you got in touch anyway.) Hang up and enjoy that little glow of well-being.

dr Bob Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the author of the new book “The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness,” said that most busy people “tend to think that in some unspecified future, we ‘ll have a ‘time surplus,’ where we’ll be able to connect with old friends.” That may never materialize, he said, so pick up the phone and invest the time right now.

Hearing the sound of a loved one’s voice, said Claudia Glaser-Mussen, a psychotherapist in New York City, “is emotionally regulating.”

In eight minutes, she added, “I can call my friend Mary Beth from high school, and say, ‘I love you so much, here’s what’s happening,’ or ‘Listen, I want to run something by you really quickly.’ It’s a short period of time, but you can get a lot in, and it’s deep enough that all the bonding hormones start to hit.”

A hard out, agreed upon in advance, solves a common conversational issue revealed in a 2021 study. Researchers looked at 932 conversations between pairs of people and found that they almost never ended when both people wanted them to. Some preferred to continue, while others felt that the interaction dragged on too long.

When one person shuts down the conversation too early, the researchers wrote, or chats away while ignoring standard wrap-up cues (such as use of the word “anyway”), the result is what’s known as a “coordination problem.” A clear boundary of eight minutes avoids that.

A study of 240 adults in 2021 found that when participants received brief phone calls a few times a week, their levels of depression, loneliness and anxiety were “rapidly reduced” compared with people who didn’t receive a call. as dr Waldinger writes in his book, “a few adjustments to our most treasured relationships can have real effects on how we feel, and on how we feel about our lives — a gold mine of vitality that we are not paying attention to.”

Try an eight-minute phone call and let us know how it goes. Put a note in the comments here. Whom did you call and what did you talk about?

Each day of Well’s 7-Day Happiness Challenge, we’ll be sharing stories of meaningful friendships collected from readers across the country. We’d love to hear yours — tell your own tale of friendship here.

Rick Knapp, 73, met his best friend, David, during their senior year of high school in Maryland, bonding over shared tragedy. As they stumbled through conversations about their respective families, they learned that both of their mothers had died by suicide a few years before.

“What an astounding — tragic, but astounding — coincidence, especially at that time when there was a huge stigma around suicide and mental health issues,” Rick said. “Nobody talked about it. Our fathers never even used the word ‘suicide.’”

For five decades, the men have given each other permission to be vulnerable about that loss, serving as each other’s therapists when they did not have access to one. David tends to be more expressive and emotional, Rick said, and that has helped him open up.

The friends have seldom lived in the same state, but they have committed to keeping in touch. While Rick was serving in the Air Force and stationed in Europe, the duo sent audiotapes back and forth because they could not afford international calls. They have exchanged letters and essays, eventually collaborating on a book about their friendship. They both love photography, and go on yearly trips with two other friends to take pictures, relax and connect.

“Losing my mother was a profoundly personal and deep-cutting experience,” Rick said. “My first inclination was to turn inward. I felt like I was in a fog for several years.” Meeting David changed that.

“It’s like the valve at the top of a pressure cooker that you lift off,” he said. “Suddenly, the air can come out.” — Catherine Pearson

Written by trendingatoz

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