The former top doctor of the US shares his advice on how to stay in touch with friends and family without discussing coronavirus the whole time

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Dr. Vivek Murthy, former US surgeon general. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
  • Dr. Vivek Murthy served as the US surgeon general from 2014 to 2017, during which time he focused on public health issues including loneliness.
  • When it comes to staying connected with love ones amid the coronavirus pandemic, he recommends creating “gratitude pacts,” in which groups commit to sharing three things that brought them joy in a given day.
  • Murthy’s book “Together,” which centres on loneliness in the US, is available online now,with the print version slated to be released later this month.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It’s an inevitable topic.

When jumping on the phone or video chatting with friends and family, it’s almost impossible not to find the conversation veering toward the reason the conversation’s happening remotely in the first place: the coronavirus pandemic.

That, in turn, can make those moments of connection less uplifting than anticipated.

“Not all social interaction is uplifting,” Dr. Vivek Murthy, who served as the surgeon general of the US from 2014 to 2017, told Business Insider.

Business Insider spoke to Murthy to find out more about how to navigate conversation without being brought down by it.

During his time in office, Murthy addressed issues like the opioid crisis and addiction. What Murthy found over time was that at the root of those problems was a “loneliness epidemic.” He’s since written a book on the topic. “Together” is available online now, with a print edition slated to be released later in April.

Dwelling on what’s wrong can drive our moods down further. While it’s still worthwhile to provide ways for loved ones to discuss what’s going wrong right now, bringing the conversation over to the good elements of the day is important as well.

“There is still great power to listening to people and giving them an opportunity to speak about the pain that they may otherwise be suffering with silently,” Murthy said. “But I also think that we have to create moments for ourselves and for each other to see and to experience joy.”

Group video call meeting

Setting up a gratitude pact

To do that, he suggests making time during the day to reflect on three things you’re grateful for. Then, in conversations with family and friends, you could make the choice to enter a “gratitude pact,” in which you share those three things that you’re grateful for.

“It not only moves us off from a focus on the negative, but it also helps us appreciate that there are bright spots in what’s happening right now,” Murthy said. “Our ability to derive joy from those is sometimes it’s a simple as a choice of where we put our attention.”

It’s something he’s done personally, he said.

Murthy, along with a group of friends, prior to the pandemic had agreed to chat monthly about some of the big things in their lives. The intent of the chat would be to discuss topics that might not otherwise come up in the course of casual conversation, like discussing health, relationships, and finances.

“It was a way for us to, again, not just focus on what was wrong but derive joy out of what was right,” Murthy said.