I thought it was just me.
I moved around a lot all my life, I had 4 completely different careers, left my home country in my 20s, never had kids and most of my friends are from different generations. There is no community around me, I don’t belong. But then I mentioned this to a few people and it transpired that I am not the only one who feels this way.
Now that the world is opening back up, I was ready to host a party on my balcony (unusually large for London). But who would I invite? Only a very few of my friends know each other. Would they even get along? I tend to be friends with people from completely different walks of life.
Looking at my Mum, she has friends from her twenties when they all had kids around the same age. We used to go on holidays as a group and the parents would also get together for dinners and parties. Mum kept those same friends, and although the types of activities they do have changed slightly in recent years, they still spend quite a bit of time together.
So is it a generational thing? Is it down to our modern lifestyle that we feel so disconnected?
As Aristotle said: “Man is by nature a social animal.” Relationships with people and places play a central role in life, our evolution depended on cooperation, kindness and compassion. Apart from that, why is it important to have a close-knit community around?
Are you familiar with the study the recommendation of the Mediterranean diet is based on? In several Italian and Greek villages, the locals live long, happy lives. Scientists have been trying to figure out the reason behind their longevity and yes, the fresh food diet, olive oil, the hilly terrain (no public transport means daily hike) are essential, but there is one more thing that is common in all these villagers’ lives: a sense of community. They tend to grow up and live in the same place, know each other well, going through all the different phases of life together, celebrate, grieve together and grow old together. That sense of belonging is what missing in our modern, urban life.
But there is more according to Dr. Julian Abel, a retired palliative care doctor, who is the co-leader of the Frome project, which aimed to end loneliness and improve health in a town in Somerset, by building community connections. In his experience when we live in close-knit communities we develop more compassion and understanding towards each other and it directly affects our health and wellbeing.
A supportive network of family, friends and neighbours build care and connectedness, love and laughter, companionship and shared values. Joining a community activity (choir, team sports, women’s circle, men’s group etc) can help us make friendships, share life events and increase the sense of belonging.
And yes, I may not be ready to give up my travelling and I possibly need to move away from my rented apartment in the near future, but there are things that I can do for myself in this present moment. So this is the plan: I will host that balcony party and invite as many friends as possible, hoping that at least some of them will get along and may even develop a connection. I will set aside time to reach out to my family and friends, even if they live far away. I will join a weekly class that involves other people (and commitment) – still debating between martial arts and partner dance.
What can you do to strengthen the community around you? What can you do for yourself and others to increase your sense of belonging?