I have lived in my condo for over 11 years. Over the course of that time, I have developed friendships that make it difficult to leave. It seems silly yet it is true. Some of us joke that if we ever move, we will have to find a new construction building and all purchase units next to each other.
Everyone knows my pug Elli. Some have even lived in the building long enough to remember her as a puppy 11 years ago. Now she is a slow moving senior who is going deaf. Many neighbors have walked her for me in a pinch. Some neighbors have keys to my place….a lifesaver when I lock myself out. We hang out at the pool together, grill out, sip lovely cocktails, celebrate birthdays. It has become my community.
It turns out, this sense of community is even good for my health. I was recently reading a Psychology Today article discussing the benefits of feeling connected or rooted to our communities.
What are the benefits of feeling a sense of connectedness?
Greater health benefits: Those who report feeling rooted in their communities also report less anxiety and fewer ailments and were even more likely to live longer.
More involvement in the community: Those who report feeling connected are more likely to volunteer or contribute or give back to their community in some way.
Higher likelihood to survive a natural disaster and to rebound after: People are more likely to know those who may need help and be more willing to help when there is a sense of social responsibility. Research showed that those communities with a higher level of social connectedness recovered the fastest after the 2012 East Coast storm Sandy.
So, how can you expand your sense of connectedness to your community?
Say “hi:” This might sound like a no-brainer yet there are many people that live in my building who avoid eye contact, do not smile, and never say “hello.” In fact, the couple that lives right next door to me is such a case. Believe me, I tried. I say “hello” when I see them in the hallway. Yet, I can pass them on the street and they do not even look at me.
Get a dog: (Caveat, this only applies if you are currently contemplating this. Only get a dog if you have the time and energy for one. Animal neglect or abuse is unacceptable.) Having a dog means that I have to leave my unit more often, which means I encounter people more often. Others are more likely to interact when you have a dog because they will stop to say “hi,” pet your dog, ask its’ name. If a dog is not in your future, you can still get out and take a walk.
Get involved: If you live in a large building, join a committee. Find a local meet up or even form one of your own. If you are religious, become active in your local congregation. Volunteer at a local school or animal shelter. Yes, we are all busy and you might wonder where you will find the time. Yet, we do find the time for those activities that we prioritize. And if you value the above listed benefits, you will find time.
Support local businesses: Shop at the corner market. Frequent the local coffee shop, or bookstore, or farmer’s market. Get to know the owners and staff. I have been frequenting my local, family-owned nail salon for years. Now when I need my nails done, I just text Mike and he lets me know when he is free. He is even selling my old computer for me!
Feeling rooted in your community can take time. After all, I have lived in my building for 11 years. Yet, with some effort, you can find yourself feeling right at home in your local neighborhood.
And as a side note, it might not be a good idea to erect a 6-foot fence in your backyard without warning your neighbors, who you have been friendly with…true story.
“A bad neighbor is a misfortune, as much as a good one is a great blessing.” Hesiod
Need some help finding your way, overcoming fears or anxieties? Paulette Janus, LCSW is a therapist who can help you feel connected. Contact her here.