Building connected communities Psychology Today

Building connected communities  Psychology Today

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 61% of American adults say that having close friends is essential to living a fulfilling life. However, Americans appear to be declining in sociability across measures over time. This manifests itself in decreased social engagement with friends, family, and others, decreased participation in civic activities, and higher levels of loneliness. Recent studies have found that more than half of US adults (58-61%) identify as lonely, with this number particularly high (79%) for adults ages 18-25.

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U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, and Julian Holt Lunstad, Ph.D., discuss social networking at the Building Connected Communities Forum at Harvard University.

Source: J. Kelly Jr

When we consider that research shows that loneliness and social isolation can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, we can understand the tsunami of anxiety making this a priority for our current US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Murthy has called this an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation,” and has used his voice as an advocate for social connection, including at a recent forum on building connected communities.

On a brisk fall day on Harvard’s campus, I gathered with global and local leaders passionate about social connection at the Building Connected Communities Action Forum to work with leaders to address social isolation, loneliness, and connection. Here are some of my top tips to help any individual or local leader make informed decisions to create social connections in their lives and communities.

1. The good life

If you’re like me, you’re curious: How do I live a good life? What career should I pursue, where should I live, how much money do I need, or how should I spend my time?

The Harvard Study of Adult Development is the longest-term study of these questions, and what they found is clear—above all, human connection matters.

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  • Focus on good relationships with mutual vulnerability and joy.
  • It is beneficial in the long run to prioritize building relationships (friends and family) over major career successes.
  • We need opportunities to be generous and important in society.

2. Links between generations

Intergenerational connections are one of the most important, but missing, types of relationships in contemporary America.

  • Intergenerational connections can take many forms: biological grandparents, adoptive family, neighbors, and local support networks.
  • For families with children, these relationships help children thrive and support their parents’ resilience.
  • There are many benefits to being the one who gives help and the one who receives help. We all want to be important in other people’s lives.

3. Full attendance

Our full presence – of time and attention – is the greatest gift we have to share with the world. Through it, we create and deepen the relational connections that carry us through life and create opportunities for empathy and compassion.

  • Finding ways to be more present in the moment can help expand our perceptions of time with each other.
  • Small cues in our environment — like a phone cabinet or a receptacle at the entrance to our home — can help us be mindful of putting our phones down.
  • Our voices carry much richer emotional presence and levels of engagement than text; Whenever possible, when communicating with loved ones remotely, consider voice memos and messages.

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4. Join or die

Originally an invitation from Benjamin Franklin to the eight colonies that made up what he hoped would be the United States, the “Join or Die” slogan has now been brought to life in a documentary inviting us all to join the club (service organizations, church choirs, Rotary clubs, etc. That) and describes why America’s fate depends on it.

Amanda Ripley, Dr. Robert Putnam and director Bette Davis discuss the documentary Join or Die.

Source: J. Kelly Jr

  • From the women’s rights movement to the passage of civil rights legislation, successful changemakers throughout history have been deeply rooted in clubs and organizations.
  • Failure to participate in community clubs and service organizations weakens the social and civic fabric on which we depend.
  • Look for clubs that will help connect you to the issues you care deeply about, and to your local community to create strong bonds of lasting support.

Reads the basic unit

5. Authentic existence

One of the main things that has kept me single my whole life is feeling needed Suitsinstead of be realistic. It is a feeling that is often driven by the belief that we are not loved or will not be accepted for who we are. For many of us, our childhoods demonstrated this reality, and we decided to turn around the wound to create a character that others could more easily like.

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  • Showing up as ourselves helps give others permission to do the same.
  • It takes great courage to be honest with each other – ask for what we need, and show up fully – but it gives us the ability to be… Really acceptableinstead of just being satisfied.
  • Adapting to and empathizing with others does not interfere with being ourselves, but rather opens a space for communication and mutual understanding.

6. Contact places

Often times, the design of the built environment is overlooked when we talk about social connectivity, yet it is so important for creating connected communities; This was discussed at the forum by mayors, researchers and policy makers alike. Our built environment and architecture—from urban planning to interior design and everything in between—can shape our opportunities for connection and influence our unity.

Erin Peavey and Dr. Robert Putnam discuss the importance of the built environment at Harvard’s Building Connected Communities Forum

Source: Photos by J. Kelly Jr.

  • Social capital or spaces (parks, cafés, streets, libraries) can help support social capital and the exposure of people from diverse backgrounds to each other and the possibility of developing friendships.
  • The built environment can help enhance opportunities for cross-pollination with others of different socio-economic statuses than ourselves, or our family of origin, and this is essential for economic and social mobility.
  • Social infrastructure is a form of climate resilience. As we respond to climate change through investments in infrastructure, we should invest wisely in a future where we not only weather the storms, but care for each other in moments of crisis.

Leaving the Harvard campus, the leaves were changing colors and a cool breeze filled the air. I felt a spirit of renewal and a sense of hope. Even in the darkness of our daily struggles, there is a golden thread that connects us together and illuminates hope. We are transformed through relationships – we have the potential to transform ourselves, to transform each other, and to create communities where every living thing can flourish.

What is one small thing you can do today to create a connection wherever you are?

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