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Holidays Provide an Ideal Time to Foster Shared Reality

Family gathered around table at Thanksgiving

Dr. Maya Rossignac-Milon shares her research and wisdom on “shared reality”—a crucial part in forming and maintaining our interpersonal relationships.  

By Lucy Zheng

What is “shared reality” and how is it important in our interpersonal relationships?

Shared reality is the perception of sharing the same inner states (e.g., thoughts, feelings, beliefs) with another person about the world. For example, you and another person might have the same reaction to something and exchange a knowing glance. Shared reality plays an important role in both drawing people to each other initially and enhancing ongoing relationships. For example, in my research, I have found that shared reality uniquely contributes to the feeling of “clicking” with someone you’ve just met. In established relationships, it also enhances the experience of self-other overlap and having “merged minds.”

How do we foster “shared reality” and why might this be important during the holidays?

There are many ways of fostering a sense of shared reality. One is to identify things in the world that you share the same thoughts and feelings about. These might be little things, like the food you are eating together, or bigger things, like reminiscing about a vacation you spent together or a funny memory you share. Another is establishing and engaging in shared practices - you can think of these as “traditions” that are special to your family. Maybe you cook all together or play a certain game after dinner. You might have inside jokes or shared references to past events that only your family members “get.” In some sense, the holidays present an important time to foster a family shared reality by creating and celebrating your family-specific culture.

There may be many things about your life that your family will never “get,” but there are also some things that only your family can “get”—like your memories together and the family culture you have created. Take a moment to celebrate those things!

Dr. Maya Rossignac-Milon is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar in the Management Division at Columbia Business School.

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