This past weekend we had tea with our neighbors, Rick and Leslie. We’ve been living on our new street for almost nine months now, and other than hellos as we come and go or quick chats at the end of the driveway, this was the first time we’d actually sat down with one of our neighbors to really get to know them.
It was lovely. I’m so grateful they invited us over.
It got me thinking about the status of neighbors and our interactions with them in this fast-paced and highly digitalized world we now live in. How many of us actually know our neighbors? Maybe we know their first names and a rough idea of what they do for a living, but who can say they actually have a relationship with their neighbors.
We used to live in Central Florida, and when we moved onto our street back in 2006, our next-door neighbor was a guy named Mike Delaney. From the day we moved in, Mike made it his mission to get to know us and to introduce us to the other neighbors. Marc and I and the other neighbors joked that he was the mayor of our cul de sac. And while sometimes he bordered on a little nosy at time, the truth is that it felt good that there was someone on our street who really cared about the people he ended up living next to.
Mike was in his seventies back then, and maybe that’s part of the reason he was so adamant about getting to know us; he came from an era when that was the norm.
These days, it’s not really the norm, is it?
“By and large, we’re lonelier and unhappier than we were in the decades before the Internet age,” writes Susan Pinker in her book The Village Effect: How face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Happier and Healthier. “Psychologists don’t know why that is exactly, though we do know that close relationships are the strongest drivers of happiness, and that being alone and unaffiliated makes us the most unhappy. The evidence is pretty clear that we are wired for frequent and genuine interaction. As humans, we need to know that we belong.”
Belonging matters. In fact, the relatively new field of social neuroscience, which looks at the relationship between social experiences and biological systems, is overflowing with evidence for how the health of our relationships is directly tied to our mental and physical health. We thrive in community. And if I’m to make meaningful social connection a core part of my thrive plan, then neighbors are just low hanging fruit. They’re literally right next door.
Now, I’m not talking about having tea with Rick and Leslie every week. We’re busy, they’re busy. It would be unrealistic to keep that up. But next time I see Rick washing his car, can I stop for five minutes and have a nice chat? Next time I see our other neighbor walking his dog, can I pause for a few moments to connect?
It all comes down to identifying what matters (in this case, meaningful connection and creating a sense of community) and then being intentional about having what matters be a priority. It’s noticing that these little two- and five-minute moments to connect really matter. It’s slowing down in life long enough to seize the opportunity to connect when it arises.
Sometimes it’s going beyond the organic, spontaneous opportunities to connect—like when we bump into each other while walking our dogs or putting out our recycling—and inviting someone over for tea, like Rick and Leslie did for us.
Remember my neighbor Mike Delaney? While we lost touch after he moved to back to Pennsylvania, when he passed away a few years ago we had the opportunity to connect with his sister. What Marc and I told her was that we would never forget how Mike made us feel; like we mattered, like we belonged. And this was all because Mike took the time to be a good neighbor: to connect, to get to know us, to show he cared. Maybe it’s as simple as stopping to connect for a few minutes a week with someone we live near. Maybe this small act isn’t so small after all.
ABOUT KRISTEN MANIERI (COACH, HOST OF 60 MINDFUL MINUTES)
Kristen Manieri is a coach who works with teams to increase both productivity and wellbeing. She also helps individuals navigate transition with clarity and confidence. Her areas of focus are: stress reduction, energy management, mindset, resilience, habit formation, rest rituals, and self-care. As the host of the weekly 60 Mindful Minutes podcast, an Apple top 100 social science podcast, Kristen has interviewed over 200 authors about what it means to live a more conscious, connected, intentional and joyful life. She is the author of Better Daily Mindfulness Habits: Simple Changes with Lifelong Impact. Learn more at kristenmanieri.com/work-with-me.