As much as I like people and friendship and community, I rarely feel I have enough of any of these in my life. I want more. I blame the deficit partly on my own individualistic tendencies. (After all, I was a self-employed artist/writer from 1992-2004, and some individualism goes with the artistic territory).
But more fundamentally, our current culture of consumption is not community-oriented. It encourages us to turn toward things and possessions rather than each other, and to actually be afraid of the messiness of human relationships. It’s true, people do have the power to hurt us. Yet research tells us that friendship and community has the power to make us happier than any other single thing aside from good health, and actually makes us more physically resilient to stress and disease.
Here are some of the things I do to build community and friendship into my life. I’d love for you to post a comment telling what you do.
- Going to church (right here in my neighborhood)
- Singing in my church choir
- Taking turns with our neighbors/friends Sue and David for hosting one informal Sunday dinner per month
- Introducing my friends and acquaintances to each other whenever possible (it strengthens the web)
- Watching movies only as a last resort for recreation (there’s no interaction)
- Going to professional trainings and conferences every chance I can find
- Throwing an annual Christmas party, open-house style, with my husband (but this past season we got snowed out twice in a row!)
- Introducing myself in social situations to people I don’t know (“I haven’t met you yet. I’m Alison,” I say. My implication is that of course I need to meet them. I get good responses from this.)
- Sending out Christmas cards or letters early in the season, asking to hear back from people
- Building weekend trips and vacations around visiting friends and family, rather than making new places my top priority
- Using email as only a last resort for staying in touch with colleagues, friends and family (in person contact is my favorite, followed by phone chats, even if brief)
- Offering to treat if a friend can’t afford to do a certain thing with me
- Carpooling or vanpooling to work instead of driving alone (much more fun, and saves a lot of money)
- Accepting that some friendships or group memberships need to end.
It’s almost counter-intuitive, but when I have respectfully acknowledged that a friendship with someone or my membership in a church or other group is ending, I’ve found I am then much more available for new friendships or memberships. There’s something about looking at our web of community clearly that breathes more life and vitality into it.