Community spirit varies greatly, from country to culture, areas to individuals. And it differs across generations and ages. One thought that remains universal, however, is that we human beings are social beings (whatever our personality type) and that we are born to support each other and connect. Yet all too often in the Western press we hear about the ‘epidemic’ of loneliness, the ‘breakdown of local communities’ and the rise of ‘individualism’. So what can we do to address this? And how do we truly connect with our fellow man?
For me, every connection is important. That with strangers can be a joy, delight, warmth or reassurance: a shared smile in a queue, a compliment from a security officer, or a chat with my fellow flight passenger en route to India – all these have happened in the last 2 hours and all have brightened my day. There are also our connections with family, friends and loved ones – which, according to all research, is key to a flourishing human life. And then there are our wider circles, our communities and our sense of belonging and sharing.
Slightly tangentially, but I hope relevant, I was privileged and honoured to spend some time before Christmas with Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive of the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, and amongst other things we discussed children’s mental health and what could be done to help. I asked him, “Why is that when two people face the same adversity, such as the loss of a loved one, one will somehow move on and thrive and the other will not?” The answer I guessed was multi-faceted yet Peter answered swiftly and clearly. In his opinion, the most singular thing that turns adversity into trauma is a ‘lonely mind’. I pondered on it and I concurred. It is not loneliness per se, it is the feeling of being alone in the mind – there is a subtle difference. I went back to the times when I had felt at my worst and recall in all circumstances the feeling of utter loneliness in my head. Which brings me back to positive social relationships. If you have a solid base of friends, loved ones, those who understand you or your issues and feelings this will help. Sometimes that may mean finding a professional to talk to, at others it could be a support group of people who have been through something similar so they understand how you feel. Yet oftentimes a good family and friendship foundation as well as a supporting community can make all the difference.
I feel, living in my particular area of Greater London, that community has diminished. I tried to address this by setting up a local charitable ‘Yoga Suppers’ event for people to join for yoga and food, yet for lots of reasons it fizzled out. We have a Nextdoor Neighbours online group but this simply shares info – useful, but not bringing people together. Funnily enough, you may laugh, but one of the places I feel the greatest sense of community locally is my nail bar in the adjacent road! Since, it opened 6 years ago, and I was one of the very first customers, I found that every time I popped in for a quick file and paint I would meet somebody new, find a new friend, get some support, or simply hear stories of different cultures and diverse lives. Soon I found myself just popping in for a cuppa and a chat. And before I knew it I was holding a Happynesshub evening there!
Some of you Hubbers may already feel you are lucky enough to live in areas with great community spirit. Others may not. Either way if you have any thoughts about how we can bring people together in 2020 and truly develop sharing and caring communities of hope, please do let me know. Connection is key – and let’s make 2020 a year of sharing, caring and community.
Merry New Year Hubbers!