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Hanging Out is Essential To Our Health

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My whole life, no matter where I’ve lived, what my job was, or what I was preoccupied with, one consistent source of comfort and peace has been idly hanging around with other people at the end of the day.

I’ve always appreciated the calming effect of slow evening hangouts with friends or family. But recently I’ve come to think of it as something essential to our health.

The location doesn’t matter really. A back porch. A coffee place. A front step. A bench facing some kind of water. You just need to be with one or more people you like, and you need it to be the latter hours of the day.

It doesn’t work if the sun’s too high. The sky should be kind of lazy-looking. All people present need to be done work for the day, both physically and mentally, for that soothing late-day mood to happen.

I remember many days that went badly—bombing exams, getting dumped, losing something—ending with a measure of peace because they ended in a nice sit-around with some friends, or my folks, on a deck or in a park somewhere.

As far as I know, this sort of quiet, casual gathering is something that happens every evening, everywhere in the world—on porches, patios, and verandas, in pubs, teahouses, living rooms, and basements, around truck tailgates or circles of haybales, in tenement courtyards, common rooms, and hotel lobbies, on concrete stoops and sandy beaches, around public fountains and chess tables in the park.

Everywhere people live, when the “doing” part of the day is over, people gravitate towards these kinds of spaces, and each other, to just kind of be rather than do. By then, everyone’s done a whole day’s worth of stuff and they don’t want to do much else, except maybe enjoy each other’s company in the wake of it all.

You have no duties at the idle late-day gathering. It’s okay to chat, and okay not to. You can talk about your day, or something else entirely.

Because it’s getting on, the sky is often gorgeous. Maybe there are some long, pink clouds, or just that clear-sky glowing horizon effect. The soundscape is softer too. Rush hour is over, and everyone who’s moving is moving slower.

Everyone knows this distinct feeling of ending the day alongside others. It’s a nameless human institution. It isn’t particular to any class or culture. It serves us all, and we did it long before there were cities, careers, or news cycles.

And I think that’s exactly why it’s so compelling. It must be deep in our blood. Our pre-agrarian ancestors probably would have gathered like this most nights. It would be inevitable—as soon as someone builds an evening fire, people can’t help but gather around it. That’s where the food is, where the light is, where the company is. No matter what was on your mind, you’d just find yourself going over there.

So it’s no wonder we feel that aura of comfort and ease at these casual, end-of-day sit-arounds, even while we’re still aware of our big-picture troubles. There, around the fire, might be the only place every basic human need can be satisfied: security, warmth, food, intimacy, and the sense that you’re being included, and maybe even understood, by the other humans.

You can see how getting together like this would have helped us stay sane and healthy. Listening to the stories and opinions of others would help each person put their own concerns and troubles in context. You’d learn how more experienced people think about what you’re thinking about. You’d learn what’s a big deal and what isn’t.

In a sense, nature trained us, over eons, to congregate at the end of the day. It feels good to us because it fulfills so many of our fundamental needs. It’s like a human-development multivitamin. So of course it feels like an oasis when we get together like that—for most of human history it was as indispensable as potable water.

Like so many natural and healthy things, we’re now in danger of getting away from it. We can get our utilitarian communications done without actually seeing anybody. We can placate our worried minds with screens. We can Google solutions to our dilemmas instead of bringing them before our peers.

These days I’m including late-day hanging out on the same short list as vegetables, exercise, and certain other vital health supports that get easily neglected in our strange, convenience-focused, entropy-inducing modern environment. It’s probably not possible to do it every day, but a couple of times a week? Yes.

Given all the other mind-and-body-warping effects of modern life—our industrialized diets, jobs that barely require our bodies, handheld devices engineered to preoccupy us—we definitely can’t afford to stop getting all the social and spiritual vitamins we used to get almost every time the sun went down.

All you need are a nice sky and some nice people, and most of a day behind you.

***

Last Call For Camp Calm!

If you’d like to learn to meditate this summer, today’s your last chance to sign up for Camp Calm.

There’s an excellent crew of new faces and old veterans waiting to hike the trail with you. You can chat, reflect, and ask questions at the Campfire.

You can start your practice any time—tomorrow, next month, or right now. But today’s the last day to sign up this season.

A simple, daily mindfulness practice is a gentle path to a quieter mind and a more manageable life. We’ll help you along the whole way. Make today the first day on this new path.

Take me to Camp!

Photo by Dawid Zawila

{ 44 Comments }

Maddy August 1, 2019 at 2:55 am

This sounds wonderful, but I think it is far from universal. I don’t think I’ve ever lived somewhere where everyone gathered in the evening aside from specific clubs based around hobbies, or organised dinners/pub outings e.g. to celebrate someone’s birthday. It would be wonderful if it caught on.

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David Cain August 1, 2019 at 8:57 am

I’m talking about something much broader than that… really any post-work convening of two or more people where you have the sensation of taking a load off. Everything from hanging out on a stoop to going for a beer to chatting over the baseball game on TV.

Industrialized society has definitely made it possible to survive alone, but there are costs to that.

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Marije van Wieringen August 1, 2019 at 3:24 am

Yes. The calm presence of others, to me, feels similar to how biologists describe the effect on other animals of a black bird singing in a tree: not just beautiful, but also the opposite of a fire alarm: a signal that there’s no danger; it’s ok to relax.
Just this morning I heard my mind’s voice say to an imaginary listener: ‘connection is the most important thing to me, so of course I make it a number one priority’. Then I popped right out of the day dream because although it IS very important to me, I also realized that somehow it very often comes last on my to do list, or even falls off the end of it. And then your post fell into my inbox… Great timing.
This beautiful post describes something which I long for and which is in my power to arrange for myself, and for my friends and family. So thank you David, for reminding me to honor my inner group animal.

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David Cain August 1, 2019 at 9:11 am

Yes, that’s totally what I’m pointing to here — the psychological state of “it’s okay to relax now” that end-of-day congregation seems to induce. It must have biological roots.

It is such a healthy thing, and it’s easier than ever to let it slide down the priority list.

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Jonathan Verrecchia August 1, 2019 at 3:48 am

Lovely article that hits home. Even just thinking about hanging out while reading your article brings up that special kind of warm feeling.

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David Cain August 1, 2019 at 9:16 am

Hi Jonathan. Yes, I love that feeling, and I don’t think I realized how vital it is, especially with my history of social anxiety. I spent so many years convincing myself I don’t need others, and it’s not true.

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Louise Wells August 1, 2019 at 4:24 am

It’s late afternoon here as I read your post. A beautiful warm glow lights the trees as the sun sets. It has always been my favourite time of day. Thanks for reminding me to enjoy it!

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David Cain August 1, 2019 at 9:38 am

It’s so interesting how strongly involved the sky happens to be in this kind of getting together. Lazy clouds, glowing horizons… they’re permanently associated with that emotional quality of that time of day.

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Anna August 1, 2019 at 4:59 am

I wish I had people in my life to do this with. I would love that.

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Chris Eaker August 1, 2019 at 6:33 am

Anna, it makes me sad to read this comment.

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David Cain August 1, 2019 at 9:40 am

Hi Anna. What is preventing you from meeting people? I have had social anxiety my whole life so I know what it feels like to be closed off in that way. But is it something else?

Modern society makes it possible to survive without a lot of human connections. But they are still available to us and I think essential in some sense to our well-being.

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Ginny August 1, 2019 at 6:35 am

My partner and I have carved a little oasis in our yard for this. Mostly, in the summer, we manage it. First we try to have a clean demarcation between the end of a work day and home time so we run or walk first. Then we hit the patio. It’s a lovely life practice. I miss it in the wintertime.

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David Cain August 1, 2019 at 9:42 am

Ah that’s great. That clean demarcation is another thing that is under threat, with bosses emailing people after hours and all that. We have to make it more explicit.

Winter is tough here too. It is so cold here it almost always has to move inside. But all the people are still somewhere.

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Jack August 1, 2019 at 7:49 am

Really enjoyed this David and can identify with the dynamic. I’ve always enjoyed a thoughtful moment of solitude in the morning prior to becoming busy with the day’s activities and winding down with family and friends in the evening when the pressure of schedule sort of evaporates. For me and I’m sure for many people what has varied most in an otherwise daily ritual is who I wind down with which has changed as my family has gone through the various stages of life and also whatever opportunities are presented as a result of the time of the week, season of the year and periodic visits from family and friends. My dad would have described this as “putting a shine on the day”.

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David Cain August 1, 2019 at 11:24 am

Thanks Jack. I appreciate that morning solitude too — it’s like the mirror-counterpart to the end of day sitting around. It has its own comforting qualities, but they’re more individual than social. I love the phrase “putting a shine on the day” and will try to remember that each morning.

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KellieBom August 1, 2019 at 9:15 am

Ahhh, the fire. I grew up on the farm, and the bonfire pit is where we gather. During the day Dad might be burning yard waste, I love a dayfire, and at night the neighbours stop by for a chat or the kids come by from the city to get their fix. (that’s me)

As someone who regularly battles with acute depression, I always find in my darkest times that just being around people is so helpful. We are tribal creatures. We need each other. Just being with other humans is so richly therapeutic.

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David Cain August 1, 2019 at 11:26 am

Hey Kellie! Same here — my trouble was always anxiety, rather than depression, and being around people, to the extent my anxiety would allow me to, is such a powerful therapy for it.

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Cornelia August 1, 2019 at 10:05 am

I am with the first commenter. I read this article with my jaw hanging open, flabbergasted that this kind of thing exists outside of the fairy tale of Hollywood. Maybe I just have always lived where people are unskilled in being peaceful, for lack of a better term.

I have this with my husband and adult children, but never with the world at large. It’s just not the way people I’ve met seem to be wired.

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David Cain August 1, 2019 at 11:28 am

As I said to that comment, maybe you are picturing something too specific? You’ve never gotten together with people and enjoyed yourself in the evening?

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welmoet glover August 1, 2019 at 10:23 am

I so agree! In Mexico and in Hawaii at the end of the day, it feels as if the whole town slows down, pauses, and migrates to gathering spots usually near the beach to watch the sunset by oneself or with others. It’s a daily ritual sometimes done unthinkingly, but often it’s that moment that everybody really looks forward to when the ‘doings’ are put aside and ‘being’ of our humanness can connect with nature and each other.
mahalo

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David Cain August 1, 2019 at 11:30 am

I haven’t seen much of either Mexico or Hawaii, but my visits to both seemed to have a stronger sense of this gathering being a part of daily life than where I live. Warmer climates probably helps — in the winter here, it’s dark by five, so social time is almost always indoors then, and therefore takes more planning/intention.

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Susan O. August 1, 2019 at 11:52 am

Yes, the gloaming. I’m mostly by myself, so I get my “people fix” by teaching evening classes. I could teach during the day but I love leaving my house at dusk to spend a few hours with the students. It has a completely different tone. So communing with others is important, although I think it can take many shapes. For example, I know many people working service jobs on night and graveyard shifts, people working two jobs as a single parent, etc. who may not have a traditional evening time to de-stress. But finding others to spend some moments of down time with I agree is valuable, even essential.

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David Cain August 1, 2019 at 12:00 pm

It can definitely take many shapes. I worked night shift for a while and our “evening” sit arounds happened on the benches at the front of the store at 5-6 am.

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Wallet August 1, 2019 at 11:57 am

Thanks for sharing this, David!

You managed to convey that sense of calm serenely through your post. Even sitting here at work taking a short break to read between tasks, I feel refreshed.

Socializing is one of those “important ingredients” to life that I tend to neglect and have been focused on reprioritizing recently, and I look forward to many more evenings like this.

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David Cain August 1, 2019 at 12:05 pm

Thanks Wallet. I have also neglected it throughout my life, mostly due to unrecognized social anxiety. But I have always needed this time with people whether I knew it or not. Luckily there were many periods where more proactive people really helped create that social time. Now I am determined to be one of those people.

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m2bees August 1, 2019 at 12:08 pm

I’ve not had this in my adult life. In my marriage, my partner was always working in the evenings. After my day at work, the last thing I wanted was to still be with other people: please send me some quiet alone-time!

Looking back to my childhood, evenings were always filled with school work, chores, or troubles. Only after I was in bed would I hear music from my brother’s piano practice, and that sound has meant peace, quiet, end-of-the-day to me all my life. I sing myself to sleep with the hymns he played.

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Ursa Major Smith August 1, 2019 at 3:56 pm

This beautiful thing happens most evenings after work and early mornings in the park nearby. It’s a public park, with a ragged old track, and lots of houses and apartment buildings all around it. Kids from the neighbourhood play, and those of us with dogs sit around, watch the dogs, and chat. I swear this is the happiest time of my five and half decades of life.

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B August 1, 2019 at 6:33 pm

Being a single parent sucks. missing this is one of the reasons.
Still, better than being married to a covert narcissist, so, it could be worse.

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elisa August 2, 2019 at 5:46 am

Hi, B. And yes! A hearty and sincere YES! I think David’s onto something important here, as he usually is, and I think I’m going to get to get back to the place where he’s pointing. It’ll take some effort. But right now the freedom and peace and stillness of no longer living with a covert narcissist is SO darn sweet. Congratulations to you. And me.

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Shane McLean August 3, 2019 at 10:59 am

David , this post is great. Spot on. One of your best. Not only friends and family great to hang out with and fantastic your health, they keep you grounded also. No matter if you’ve had a great or bad day.

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David Cain August 3, 2019 at 11:16 am

Thanks Shane. There were some negative reactions to this post, mostly saying that it can be really hard / sometimes impossible to make this happen, given our different schedules and obligations. And that’s true — just like it’s really hard to work exercise or leafy greens into our post-industrial lifestyles. But that doesn’t change how vital to our health they are. Whether it’s easy, hard, or impossible, we really suffer from the dearth of this idle social time in our lives.

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Nathan St. Pierre August 3, 2019 at 12:00 pm

One of the things I’m able to do now that I live in Denver is walk the mile (STRAIGHT uphill) to my cousin’s house once in a while in the evening hours and sit out on his back porch for a bit of a peaceful chat. I told him the other day that it was one of the things I envisioned doing when I considered moving back here.

You’re right, there really is something special and universal to it. I love thinking about these kinds of things that transcend time and culture. It’s funny – we sit and relax and chat a little, and sometimes someone will pull out a phone to show a funny clip on YouTube or Twitter, but that use of tech doesn’t bother me at all in this scenario. It’s just a tool of the current time, used in an appropriate way. Because these moments aren’t about technology, pro or con – they’re about rest and fellowship in an unhurried way.

I hear you :)

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David Cain August 5, 2019 at 11:31 am

That sounds real nice!

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Deanna August 3, 2019 at 10:29 pm

This is a genuine question: where do you find friends? All my friendships are people I see once every ew months or just chat with online. Sometimes at a job I’ll hang out with co workers but that isn’t possible at this job. Everyone is so busy all the time, I feel like a gathering like that has to be planned weeks in advance.

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David Cain August 5, 2019 at 11:25 am

I’ve made my friends a number of ways, mostly through other friends, but all it really takes is is asking someone if they want to do something — go to a show, do an evening class with you, try out an ice cream place, anything. Maybe it’ll be fun, maybe not. Then there’s a precedent at least, and either of you can easily text and say “Hey I’m doing X on friday… wanna come?” Then once you’re friends you can bring in other people and make new friends that way.

In my experience, people really like being reached out to for the most part.

Certainly not everyone is too busy to spend time together, but if you’re surrounded by people whose jobs are their lives it may seem like that. It also doesn’t need to be a “gathering” — going for a coffee or a walk with someone counts.

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Anne Merrill August 4, 2019 at 4:04 am

My favorite word I’ve learned since moving to Germany five years ago is “Feierabend”. Feier means celebration and Abend means evening. The compound word that combines them means the time of day when work is done and it’s time to hang out. Germans are shocked to learn that we don’t have a similar word in English!

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David Cain August 5, 2019 at 11:25 am

I love all those untranslatable German words.

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Michael August 6, 2019 at 1:48 pm

You’re spot on, David.

On a couple trips to various parts of Italy, I remember being struck by the nightly ritual of the “stroll.” Seemingly every evening before a later meal, I’d notice couples and groups – even whole families – just walking the streets of their neighborhood, often engrossed in deep conversation (at least I assumed it was deep…my Italian is not great!) and meandering about at a leisurely pace. Never did it seem there was a direction – or destination – in mind. But I was fully cognizant of the fact that they were connecting…or as you mentioned – hanging out.

I know for me, I’m beginning to recognize the importance of rituals such as these. It’s the campfire conversations, or the evening wine tastings, or just a stroll around the proverbial neighborhood that really is La Dolce Vida.

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David Cain August 7, 2019 at 9:49 am

For two years I’ve lived in a neighborhood where people “stroll” and I love it. Also, a lot of sitting on stoops and porches.

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Nina August 7, 2019 at 9:00 am

Hmmm, you’ve made me reconsider my tendency to hide from my roommates in the evening. We often chat in the kitchen, but eat and watch TV by ourselves. Maybe we’d all get something out of hanging out together occasionally. We live right next to a park, too.

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David Cain August 7, 2019 at 9:53 am

We do all need our alone time, but I know in the past I’ve done that same kind of habitual holing-up in the evening. I regret missing a lot of that communal time.

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Hana August 7, 2019 at 9:19 am

Hanging out is a painful and uncomfortable experience most of the time that results in bad decisions and overstepped boundaries. Your perspective on this is skewed, because the desire NOT TO hang out is the bedrock of social anxiety and it is not considered acceptable to tell people that you want them to stop talking to you, or to go away unless they’re ‘rude’ or w/e even though it’s fine to want some separation, especially if they routinely try to follow you home and convince you thay you should let them fuck you.

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David Cain August 7, 2019 at 9:58 am

I’m not sure what you’re reacting to… the phrase “hanging out” maybe? I’m talking about the benefits of spending time with people you appreciate. Nobody said anything about giving up your right to protect yourself against bad or dangerous people.

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John August 9, 2019 at 10:22 pm

Amen Brother!

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