Look Around and Look Within

The Science and Art of Human Behavior

Bringing Back the "Daily Constitutional"

Enhancing attunement in relationships.

My husband and I take a walk every morning to get a Starbucks and talk. After 40 years of friendship, our walks are part of the glue to our relationship. They start our days with a moment together sharing a dream, a plan, a memory, or an experience in conversation. We talk about our kids, work, friends, philosophy, and the meaning of life. It’s a time of pure listening and attunement. 

Perhaps walking with another human being day in and day out over many years is key to increasing attunement, the creation of harmonious relationship. Despite the physical boundaries (two bodies), we walk in sync, with our steps hitting the pavement at the same pace, crossing streets at the same time, and experiencing morning skies and sounds together. It seems to bring us into greater harmony through the physical synchronizing. Then there is a mental attunement revealed in thoughts going back and forth, feelings shared, and reflecting back to one another a whole range of emotions from worry, calm, trepidation, to courage. There are the mutually shared external experiences —the Starbuck’s baristas, the neighbors at the same table every morning, the homeless man who waves hello, and the patch of land we pass that in October houses pumpkins and in December Christmas trees.

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The familiarity of our walk yet its changing nature is a metaphor for life itself, constantly changing yet familiar across generations in terms of love and loss.

Taking a walk used to be part of everyone’s ‘daily constitutional,' a means of keeping healthy and promoting overall well-being. I think the daily constitutional is crucial in this age of information overload, high stress, diets rich in fat and sugar, and the overall rising rates of obesity and diabetes in our country. Yet, taking a daily constitutional with a partner in life is also one of the best ways to strengthen the scaffolding of a relationship so that the union grows stronger than each of its parts.

Susan L. Smalley, Ph.D., is a professor and behavior geneticist at UCLA Semel Institute and Founding Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC).

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