A ‘kibbutz’ experience in California does wonders for the soul
Interview'There's a lot of research that shows that having shared novel experiences is very healthy for a marriage'

A ‘kibbutz’ experience in California does wonders for the soul

Israeli-American author Nir Eyal says meeting regularly with a set group of friends leads to happiness, better relationships

Israeli-American author and educator Nir Eyal (screen capture: YouTube)
Israeli-American author and educator Nir Eyal (screen capture: YouTube)

About a year ago, writer and motivational speaker Nir Eyal and his wife Julie moved to San Francisco from Palo Alto. As transplants, the couple and their homeschooled daughter began to adjust, with a few pitfalls.

Eyal, who actively blogs at NirAndFar.com, had already distilled years of research, consulting and practical experience to write a manual for creating products people love in his bestselling 2013 book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.” In fact, Eyal and his wife run an annual conference about habit formation and technology products called the Habit Summit at Stanford University.

Despite the success, Eyal found himself recently developing a bad habit of his own — not finding the time for social interaction.

“The more professional opportunities came my way, the more time I spent away from my friends — the people I truly cared about,” says Eyal, who realized a lack of satisfaction in his lifestyle. “Maintaining friendships with people to talk to, depend on and enjoy takes time.”

‘If the food of friendship is time together, how do we make the time to ensure we’re all fed?’

So, he devised a plan to get himself out of a “funk” by bringing together a group of couples every two weeks to meet and have meaningful discussions.

“If the food of friendship is time together, how do we make the time to ensure we’re all fed?” Eyal asks. “My friends and I have recently come across a way to keep each other close. It fits into our lifestyles despite busy schedules and a surfeit of children. We call it the ‘kibbutz.'”

In an interview with The Times of Israel, Eyal shares his new “happiness hack.

Why a kibbutz?

Cover for Nir Eyal's 'Hooked' (courtesy)
Cover for Nir Eyal’s ‘Hooked’ (courtesy)

We didn’t know what else to call it. It seemed like the atmosphere that I had experienced on a real kibbutz [a collective community in Israel]. My wife and I had made several visits to Kibbutz Magen in southern Israel and we always thought it was pretty remarkable how people have these very close social ties… with people who are not related by blood, but then become family, which we thought was a very beautiful social structure. So, we adopted that name for our own “kibbutz” here in the Bay Area.

What motivated you to share something so personal in your writing that admits happiness can be a struggle?

Everything I write is meant to share what I’m struggling with. I hope that it helps other people. I benefit from that a great deal because I always hear new ideas from my readers. It’s a very symbiotic relationship.

How do children experience your kibbutz?

I only have one child, my daughter, and she loves the kibbutz because she basically, for the most part, plays with other kids her age while the adults are talking. Every once in a while the children will participate in the conversation or listen in. We do have that rule that they can’t interrupt us unless there’s some emergency. For the most part, she just plays with her friends who are of similar age.

What does the kibbutz offer to support marriage? How are relationships equally important for singles and older folks?

There’s a lot of research that shows that having shared novel experiences is very healthy for a marriage. Having adult conversations is something that my wife and I missed to some degree. It was really nice to have this kibbutz in place because we can have these adult conversations without the kids constantly interrupting us. Which is something that we really find nourishing.

‘There’s a lot of research that shows social ties have a direct link to longevity’

From a very pragmatic standpoint, we also learn all kinds of tips and advice from our friends who are struggling with similar challenges. If there’s something related to child rearing, we can ask those kinds of questions and hear advice on what’s working and what’s not working.

There’s a lot of research that shows social ties have a direct link to longevity. It shouldn’t matter if you’re single or if you’re young or elderly. Having these strong social bonds is very important for everyone.

So your kibbutz resembles a European salon that is kid-friendly?

Yes, absolutely. There is that element of almost like a TED talk-like discussion or European salon. That would be a good similar experience.

What are some of the common myths about adult friendship that the kibbutz debunks?

One of the common myths is that when you have kids you can’t really have adult relationships, that kids come first. We don’t think so. We actually think that we have to take care of ourselves individually. If we can take care of ourselves, then we can become better partners for our spouse. If we could become better spouses, then we become better parents. There’s this myth that kids come first, that our kids are so precious to us that we can neglect ourselves and our relationships. That’s a mistake.

What is your connection to Jewish life?

‘There’s this myth that our kids are so precious to us we can neglect ourselves and our relationships’

I subscribe to a vision of Judaism that is about the people of Israel and people who identify themselves as Jewish. I do identify myself as Jewish, but I’m also an atheist in terms of my particular religious belief. I don’t have a faith in anything supernatural, but I do consider myself a Jew in the sense that I was born in Israel and my parents are veterans. My grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and so I have very strong tie to Judaism and to Israel.

What is your experience on an actual kibbutz in Israel?

I left Israel when I was three years old. My parents are both Israelis, but grew up in the United States and would go to Israel almost every summer. I spent a lot of time as a teenager at Kibbutz Magen. I worked milking cows.

Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin milks a cow on Kibbutz Shomriya (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
President Reuven Rivlin milks a cow on Kibbutz Shomriya when he was Knesset Speaker (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

How does this experience compare to your kibbutz?

Committing to our “kibbutz” has had the biggest impact on my happiness over the past year. Here’s how our group works, but the lessons can apply to any adult friendship:

Book the time — Reserve time on your calendar so there’s no guesswork or scheduling headaches about when you’ll see each other again. Our group meets every two weeks.

Go deep — Talking about a meaningful topic strengthens your bonds. Get past the shallow small talk. In our group, a different member brings the question of the day to each meeting.

Don’t let kids derail you — Children benefit from seeing you model a healthy adult friendship. Tell the kids they can listen or participate, but they can’t interrupt unless it’s an emergency.

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