I’m a huge fan of the television series Friends. It would be impossible to count how many times I’ve seen each episode across it’s 25-year history on our screens - often, it’s on in the background when I cook, do housework, and things like that.
For me, it’s the tv show equivalent of a comfy pair of sweatpants. It’s comfortable, soothing, light-hearted and well, ‘there for you.’ Just like your perfect pair of sweatpants, the group of friends on the series is always there each other throughout it all. Even more than that, it seems that for the viewer, the group dynamic situational comedy formula can deliver big psychological benefits.
I realized that the reason why I find the show so comforting isn’t just the familiarity - it’s in the process of watching a whole set of various situations and circumstances play themselves out across the group and dealt with within a relatively short time frame. Processing, reacting, resolving.
According to Marc Hester, a clinical psychologist at London's The Summit Clinic, watching Friends—and other sitcoms like it, which set up a problem and solve it in the span of 30 minutes or less—may help reduce anxiety. For Hekster, part of the soothing nature of sitcoms is the lighthearted way in which characters deal with life’s uncertainties. He claims that watching Friends "is about an experience of repair, of watching the characters in the show repeatedly having worries, which then get repaired and soothed, usually in the context of other relationships in their lives.”
As each situation develops and plays itself out across the group, we observe each character react in their own way and we watch them figure out how to get to a decent outcome. Whether they end up hilarious (like Ross, Rachel and Chandler trying to get Ross’s new couch up the stairs), relatable (Rachel quitting her job at Central Perk and apply to her dream job by using Joey’s “ya gotta have The Fear” pep talk), or devastating (such as Chandler having to give the fertility results to Monica after the doctor’s phone call), we see a group of young people handle life as it happens. And then we watch what happens next.
Granted, not many people can relate to a group of characters who have a surprisingly huge amount of free time on their hands - I’ve never seen a professional chef with as much down-time as Monica - but everyone can relate to the stress of life’s uncertainties. Somehow, for me at least (but I suspect I’m hardly alone) it makes me approach all of my own situations with a lot more confidence.
After all, who knows what will happen; but at least there will be a story to tell and lessons learned. Rachel’s Thanksgiving Trifle. The Geller Cup. A blue nail in the quiche during Monicas’s first catering job. And of course, “Smelly Cat.”
Other great group dynamic sitcom shows like Frasier and The Golden Girls deliver the same anxiety-soothing benefits. The Office is another solid choice. The magic is in the group and in the way problems come and go - we laugh, we cry, we relate. The longer the series run the better, because the characters have a past. There are so many complexities, and so much to handle.
Every day when I turn Friends, this “Sweatpants of Shows,” I am interacting with the ambitious concept that everything will get handled in due time, and with some kind of resolution. All wrapped in 90’s fashion, music and technology in way that I remember all too well.
That nostalgia factor is also a powerful comfort tool, one that some experts say is because television from yesteryear can make us feel safe and secure in a world that feels increasingly chaotic. It’s like mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, just like your grandmother made. Suddenly everything feels just a little more soothing when you tuck into a nice big helping of either those delicious potatoes or “The One Where No One’s Ready.”
While I can’t even imagine actually living life with big group dynamic like that, I can certainly enjoy watching them all “attempt to handle this.” As I reflect on the psychological benefits of observing it all take place, I have a much deeper appreciation for my love for the series. The next time I accidentally watch five or six episodes in a row, I can say I’m doing it for my health.
Picture this: a great morning had begun. I was fully caffeinated, had an easy school drop off with my daughter and well on my way to a productive day. I was ticking things off my To-Do list with the type of chipper, "the world is my oyster" attitude that non-morning people find repellant.
Feeling pretty darn great.
In an effort to really maximize this momentum, I thought that popping over to a local automatic car wash was a solid idea. Pay $8, roll through, check emails while the car is being scrubbed and shined. Sounds like a plan.
So there I was, still feeling pretty darn great.
Until the machine stopped.
I was so engrossed in my email in-box - still feeling pretty darn great - that I didn't quite pick up on the fact that the machine had, in fact, totally stopped. And my car was completely covered in bubbles.
I admit that I spent probably a few too many seconds thinking, 'okay, this isn't actually happening. It's going to start back up again...right?'
Covered in bubbles. Broken machine. Game over.
In a scene that I now replay in my head to peals of internal laughter, I rolled down my window (bubbles sliding down, comically) peered out and said, "HELLO?!" Of course no one came out to attend, because there was no one there, being an automatic car wash and all.
I drove out, realizing that I now paid $8 for the experience of having to figure out what the heck to do with a car completely covered in bubbles.
I'll admit that I was pretty ticked off, and really embarrassed. In case you've never really thought about it before, let me be the first to tell you: it's really hard to feel like you have your act together when you're driving a car completely covered in bubbles. I was obviously the victim of a technical mishap and well, all my cool points went out the window.
Realizing that this was now mine to solve, I pulled my bubbled-covered car into a nearby parking space, took a few deep breaths and found my solution in the form of a pool towel that I had in the back. It took quite a few minutes of wiping and wringing, but I did manage to at least get my GingerMobile road-safe for the quick drive home.
My productive morning was...well, it was a wash. I got home, and spent the next 2 hours properly cleaning it before all of the towel-dried bubble streaks baked in the hot Vegas sun, sealing my embarrassment (and potentially damaging my car's paint) for all to see.
I decided to table my irritation and take it as a reminder that no matter what we have planned, you have to expect the unexpected. Most importantly? You have to keep your wits about you and adjust accordingly. Sure, my plans didn't turn out as I had planned, and the bubble-tastrophe was a REALLY unwelcome wrench in the works. Big time.
But that's just how it goes sometimes.
When life suddenly covers you in bubbles, just stay nimble and move through it. Whether it's a relatively minor inconvenience like this one or a really major problem, spending time on the solution (rather than the emotional reaction) is the fastest way to get back on track.
If you're in business and your social media or blog content is leaving you feeling under pressure, consider delegating those tasks to Digital Heartbeat today. I'll always be nimble, engaging and productive - bubbles or no bubbles.
I do a lot of writing, and that includes seemingly infinite quote and image research for whatever piece is on my plate. They're really popular elements that belong in a blog or social media post every bit as much as the text itself.
Many times, I work with an inner stack of favorites that ring true and serve me well - or at least, give me a great head start. Sometimes I come across a new quote that sticks to me like glue and leaves a permanent mark on my mindset, changing me forever. That's what happened earlier this year.
"Do something today that your future self will thank you for."
11 words, full of power. Despite the awkward grammar that kind of makes me twitch, the driving message behind it really grabbed a hold of me and hasn't let go. Do something. Today. That your future self will thank you for (twitch).
We all have goals and those goals are big, little, and everything in between. We have that voice in our head that either urges us onward or cuts us some slack. 'Oh, just do it later,'
'You can make time for it tomorrow,'
'Let's do this other thing first, and then that important thing.'
See, mine used to be of the 'cuts us some slack' variety.
I used to listen to that really unhelpful chatter. I used to think I could somehow fit an hour of work into a fifteen minute crunch. And I used to be REALLY stressed.
And then I saw the 11 words.
"Do something today that your future self will thank you for."
The little things - like putting away a dish when I'm done, or neatly hanging my clothes and accessories at the end of the day - made my future self think, 'oh wow - good job, this is so nice to not have piles everywhere.' The big things - like setting firm deadlines for my work and getting a lot of components completed early - made my future self think, 'wow I am SO GLAD I did that.'
I've often read that if something takes less than 2 minutes, you should just do it and not set it aside for another time. Reason being, a whole day of "I'll do that later" adds up to a complete avalanche of stuff for tomorrow. You're essentially living tomorrow today and dealing with today tomorrow - and if you think about it, that's pretty exhausting.
But I'm not just talking about dishes and deadlines. Accessing the power of today sets you up for success no matter what the issue. Considering your future self - and all that you will have to contend with at that time - is a loving act of preventive maintenance. For me, those 11 words delivered a powerful shift in my mindset and put the emphasis on today. Since then, I've seen it echo into all of the various aspects of my life. It's been a bit like a pebble tossed in a lake - the ripples are still coming.
Now, I can't even imagine punishing my future self with unfinished bits of this or that. I have given my future self countless gifts and believe me, when I encounter one, I am so grateful. Less regret, less stress - and that annoying inner chatter that used to seduce me into doing something later has been replaced by a chipper, wise rendition of those 11 magical words.
Handle today today, and set yourself up for success for tomorrow. Go ahead and take the leap that you've been planning. Even a small step forward is still a leap - be bold, be brave. Your future self will be so glad you did.