One of the fundamentals of happiness is to be connected with other people – actual relationships, friendships.
In the digital age it’s very comfortable to remain isolated and yet we have an artificial sense of connection because of the online relationships we can cultivate. These are convenient relationships. You can switch them on and off at will. You can even feel like you are staying up to date with real friends through their online updates.
When we moved into our home eleven years ago, I was Neighbour Averse. Not very “Neighbourhood Watch” friendly. I am not a particularly introverted person, I just felt that I needed privacy and space. The home we lived in previously was surrounded by one acre of land. I had recalibrated my personal space zone to one acre. So, when I moved into my new suburban home on a 450 square metre block of land, I felt surrounded and encroached upon by the homes which grew around me.
If I encountered a neighbour, I would smile, nod or wave but never actually engage them in conversation.
All was going along nicely until Simon and Anna moved in next door. They are a mid 30’s couple with no kids and a Doberman. It started with Simon standing on the front lawn chatting to Jeff while he played worked on his boat.
Then, a few weeks before Christmas, we received a note in our letterbox inviting us to a “Street Christmas Get Together”. Comfort zone seriously invaded.
My immediate response was to decline the invitation but Simon had told Jeff that they were going and Jeff had half committed us too. It seemed that Simon had “friended” everyone in the street. So we accepted the invitation.
It would have been easier just to decline or even ignore the note. It was just at that crazy busy time before Christmas. We had other things happening and we had to take Ziye (our Chinese student) to the airport that night.
But we went.
As I stood there watching all the neighbours meeting one another and explaining which house number they were from, I realised that we were all just as isolated as one another in our street full of people.
I thought about people who die inside their homes and the skeletal remains are discovered years later by some water service person checking to see why the bills aren’t being paid. The neighbours oblivious to the odour of death as they go about their daily business.
I just learned that the lady a few doors down had twins three years ago. Her husband works away for weeks at a time so she was alone and struggling. I had no idea she was there.
How easy it is, in the busyness of life or “Stranger Danger” thinking, to miss out on meeting new people and making more connections.
The couple across the street left for a New Zealand holiday and while they were away we noticed their perfect green lawn developing circular brown patches. We stretched our garden hose across the street and watered it.
Then Simon and Anna’s Doberman died and we dropped a card in their letterbox and told them how sorry we were. Simon cried.
There is a continuum from relationships with family to friends, neighbours and community to the virtue of altruism which leads to safe communities and happy people.
Connection makes us kinder.
There are some great books which have helped me a lot, here are some I recommend:
Eveyone Communicates – Few Connect by John Maxwell
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Kelly Exeter, Perth based author and speaker has some great information on her website too along with this podcast – Community
So, I am glad I went along to our little Street Christmas Get Together.
How about you – do you know your neighbours?