Life Talks: A Guide to Bringing Back Conversation

art-1113-life-talksI don’t know about you, but once the candles are blown out, the leftovers are safely in the fridge, and I have changed into sweat pants (the expandable type), I tend to experience a little Thanksgiving let-down. My belly is full, but often my soul is not. I become a little melancholy and wonder, “Is that all there is?”

Or at least, I used to. Now I have no excuse for having a less than fulfilling Thanksgiving or any holiday or major event for that matter. The reason for the shift is because I wrote a book, titled Life Talks:  A Guide to Bringing Back Conversation, that addresses the need we all have to connect in a meaningful way with others, especially our family and friends.

Life Talks is divided into chapters, each devoted to a major life event: anniversary, graduation, family reunion, baby shower, birthday and more. In each chapter, I describe how to use questions and activities to bring about the conversation and connection we all long for. These are not hypothetical questions and activities, but ones that I have used with my family, friends and colleagues.

If you don’t know where to start in terms of creating new traditions and building memories, you are not alone. I find that many people are a little reticent to tackle a full-blown “team builder” with unsuspecting family members and friends.

My answer is, start with Thanksgiving. As I state in Life Talks, “if you are wondering how you are going to introduce conversation-starters to your friends and family members because you fear the reaction you might get, then Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday in which to begin. There is, after all, a directive implicit in the word Thanksgiving: Give Thanks.”

Here is how you can start this new tradition. Call people to dinner, and as you do, explain that you are initiating a new tradition. Have everyone gather around the table and ask them to hold hands (optional) while each person shares at least one thing that they are thankful for. Even the youngest members should be encouraged to participate; they may need a little prompting, but you will be surprised by what they may say.

If that feels too basic or your family already participates in gratitude sharing, I suggest you try another activity (which is also included in the book) and is one that my mother started years ago. She would make place cards for the table with each of our names on them, and asked the grandkids to randomly place them around the table. When you sat in your assigned seat, my mother would direct us to look inside the folded place card, where we would find a question that we had to answer sometime before the meal concluded. Her questions tended to be whimsical and fun and included ones such as “If you could meet a famous person…,” “If you had unlimited money…,” or, “If you could create any kind of theme park…”

A variation of this theme is to select questions from the Life Talks Thanksgiving chapter (see the activities section above) or from another chapter of the book. Examples from the Family Reunion chapter: “What superhero do you most identify with?” and “What are three things this group would be surprised to learn about you?” From the Long Car Rides chapter: “What is one thing you appreciate about the family?” and “ What is something you are really good at doing?”

Print the questions out and place them in a basket, bag or hat.  As family members arrive, have them pick a question from the “grab bag” and explain that they will need to answer the question during dinner. By distributing the questions early, you provide the folks who are more introverted a chance to think about their response ahead of time.  You can also allow trading to occur, so if someone is absolutely puzzled by the question they get, they can swap it with someone else.

What is great about the use of questions is that there is an unlimited supply of them (if you run out of ideas, ask others for ideas) and no minimum number is required to participate.  Whether you are a small family of two or a large one, the benefit is the same: creating opportunities to really connect in both fun and meaningful ways.

I wrote Life Talks so that none of us has to experience another holiday or major life event where we leave the table feeling empty. Happy Holidays!

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Activity: Thanksgiving Questions

If you could spend a day with a famous person, who would it be and what questions would you ask them?

You have an appointment with the Long Island Medium and you have the opportunity to talk with a friend  or family member who has passed over. Who would you choose to talk to and what would you ask them?

Which event in history would you have liked to have been present at and why?

What is one thing that no one here knows about you?

Which event in the future would you like to be present at and why?

What is one talent you possess that you would not want to live without?

What continues to surprise you about life?

What continues to surprise you about yourself?

You have been given unlimited resources to create a business, what would it be?

You have been given one million dollars and the directive to donate it to worthy causes that don’t benefit you or your family. How would you spend the money?

If you could create a form of transportation not yet developed, what would it be?

If you had the ability to solve a significant conflict in the world or cure a major disease, what would you solve or cure?

What talent do you currently possess but have not fully developed?

What five things remain in your bucket list?



Author Peggy Jennings-Severe is available for book signings and presentations. Life Talks:  A Guide to Bringing Back Conversation can be purchased in Chico at Lyon Books and at the CSU, Chico and Butte College bookstores, as well as online at

Listen to a special interview with Peggy, airing on Nancy’s Bookshelf radio show Friday, November 15 at Northstate Public Radio, KCHO 91.7 FM (Chico) and KPFR 88.9 FM (Redding). Call (530) 898-5896 for air times.

Peggy Jennings-Severe
About Peggy Jennings-Severe

Author Peggy Jennings-Severe, MA in psychology, currently lives with her husband, Rhys, and a pair of yellow labs in Northern California. She looks forward to spending the holidays with her adult children and extended family.

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