Creating Community: The Health Benefits of Hospitality

May 24, 2024

When I was a kid, my parents always had people in our house. As a habit, my mum would cook way too much food for most meals to accommodate potential guests. Often, a spontaneous conversation at the supermarket would lead to a dinner invite, seamlessly forming new friendships. This environment left a lasting impression on me: seeing the good in people, trusting before being sceptical, and learning to adapt to serve others' needs, often finding unexpected nourishment in return.

Of course, this didn’t always go smoothly, and there was sometimes a need for boundaries. Different personalities have different needs, and not everyone enjoys constant company. Despite these challenges, I’ve come to recognise, as an adult with my own children, that the benefits of opening our lives and homes far outweigh the cons.

In this strange modern world, we often have to practise what once came naturally—spontaneous, intuitive acts of kindness and hospitality. We are relearning some of the most basic human practices and behaviours. However, by embracing these principles, we can foster a sense of community and connection that is increasingly rare but profoundly needed.

Apart from the obvious nurturing of general human flourishing, there are numerous health benefits attached to cultivating a lifestyle of hospitality. As with anything we do to foster health and wellness, our intrinsic human needs lie at the centre of our overall lifestyle choices—exercise, healthy diet, meditation, etc.

To clarify, I am not just talking about spending more time with friends. I am talking about actually opening our homes to others and offering something of our inner space to them through food, wine, laughter, and good old conversation. It is important to note the paradox of being hospitable: the numerous health benefits come as a secondary effect of moving away from self-interest. You have to begin your journey with the choice to let go of self-gain. In doing this, you unlock something intrinsic to our nature as humans—the joy of giving!

So let's talk about the specific benefits of cultivating hospitality in our lives:

Hospitality enhances social connections

One of our fundamental needs as humans is to be around other people. Who would have thought? We actually need other people to grow into well-rounded, healthy individuals. Studies have shown that generosity and openness reduce stress and help us naturally fight depression. Opening our lives and homes strengthens social bonds, which are vital to our mental health. This stands in contrast to the dopamine hit we get from an Instagram like, which only emulates human connection while sometimes working against it.

Hospitality improves emotional well-being

Chemically speaking, when we give to others, our brains release endorphins, boosting our mood. Essentially, we feel happy when we get out of our own stuff once in a while. It alleviates the feeling of being in this life by ourselves and for ourselves. As we give to others, we reinforce our shared human bond. These feelings of happiness and fulfillment, known as “the helper's high,” are crucial to enhancing and regulating our overall mood.

We gain purpose and meaning

By opening our lives to others over a meal, we gain a sense of purpose and meaning. Not only do we communicate value to others, but we also find our own value affirmed. This is not just woo-woo nicey-nice stuff; it is critical to our health. It is especially needed in the current economic, political, and social challenges of our time. Studies have clearly concluded that the modern world is facing a crisis of meaning, which directly relates to our everyday health and well-being. In other words, we are facing a lot of uncertainty, and finding shared value in one another keeps us stable and healthy.

Physical health benefits

On a physical level, engaging with others can lower stress levels, which in turn can reduce the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease. Additionally, the physical activity involved in preparing for guests and maintaining a hospitable environment contributes to overall groundedness through mind-body connection.

Increased capacity for empathy

As we put aside our own needs and make space for others to be supported, we develop the capacity to listen, to not jump to conclusions and judge, which reinforces separation. Instead, we give ourselves the opportunity to let others express themselves, fostering curiosity and empathy.

Apart from all the health benefits, who doesn’t want to create more contexts to eat food with other people? We will have to get through the insecurity of fear of rejection and sometimes having a weirdo or two in our space, but what’s the worst that could happen? My childhood was filled with this, and I turned out okay. In all seriousness, it will take a bit of pushing through our comfort zones and putting ourselves out there more, but for the sake of our health and well-being, it is worth it.

If you are in need of healthy recipe ideas for your next dinner party check out Roasted Carrot Top Pesto and Cold Yoghurt and Salt and Vinegar Roast Potatoes with Maple Miso Glaze

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