Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Walking down the jet way just in time to catch the plane for the start of our 10-day family vacation, the question came up, which child would sit with which parent. At this particular moment, they both chose Dad.

I feigned hurt feelings, wondering if they could both sit next to him. Our daughter decided she would keep me company. I soon discovered why they wanted to sit next to Dad. He played with them on plane trips, while I normally read a book or worked on my computer.

This revelation lead to my putting up my computer and playing several hands of go fish, most of which I lost. When we changed planes in Salt Lake City, I had become fun enough to sit next to again. I determined that FUN would be the goal for our vacation.

We ran into numerous problems picking up the RV we were planning on driving through Yellowstone for the next 4 days. The goal was being challenged. At one point I thought all was lost when my husband mentioned renting a SUV and camping in a tent, but 5 hours after our plane landed, we were on our way with my husband behind the wheel of a 38-foot RV.

Focusing on fun, and working together had allowed us to overcome obstacles and move forward, literally.

While we often run to friends for fun, solace, advice or simply to unwind, there is recent scientific evidence that friends, or thinking of a positive influence will help make molehills out of mountains, or at least make the mountains a bit more manageable.

The impact of social support, both in person and through thoughts, is the topic of a recent article (Schnall, S. et al., Social support and the perception of geographical slant, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2008), doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2008.04.011).

In two studies, 76 participants were asked to estimate the slope of a hill. In the first study, a friend accompanied some participants and some were alone. Those who had a friend with them judged the slope to be less steep by 10 percent to 15 percent than did those who were alone. The longevity of the friendship also had an impact. “The longer participants knew their friends, the less steep they estimated the hill to be,” noted the study.

The second study focused on the impact of simply thinking about someone else. Before estimating the slope of a hill, the participants were asked to think of a person: a person of positive influence who would provide support, a neutral person or a person of negative influence. In this study, the participants who thought of a person of positive influence estimated the slope to be lower than did the other participants.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.