At 9 years old Summer Farrelly was the kid that no-one talked to and she spent most of her lunch breaks in the school library. Summer, and her whole family are on the autism spectrum and she didn’t know how to make friends. Summer raised chickens and she observed that her chickens formed different groups according to their moods. As she studied the ways these different groups communicated with each other she applied what they did to her own interaction with other kids at school. Before long she went from being the kid with no friends to one who connected well with others. Her mother said that the biggest difference, apart from her growing confidence and resilience, is that Summer learnt self-acceptance. Summer and her mother have created a chicken therapy program and at 12 years old Summer is now helping disabled animals.
We all know that we’ve become a society that has disconnected from each other. Social isolation and loneliness are on the increase which affects our health and wellbeing. This separation from others isn’t something we intentionally create we just get busy and there are less opportunities to make new friends. So, what can we do?
I feel that if we can all establish habits that support support connections, we can change the culture of the world around us. Following are a few suggestions that come to mind:
Set an intention to connect more
When we set an intention, preferably by writing it down and placing it somewhere that we can look at it daily, we remind ourselves of what is most important to us.
Allow time to connect
When every minute of our day is scheduled we miss opportunities to be spontaneous. We need time to connect, to be able to stop and chat if you run into someone unexpectedly. When you are focused on doing all the time you often miss the clues that someone else is in need. Schedule some time each day that is free time, if you don’t have time to talk to someone when you run into them you can always tell them you’d love to catch up and give them a call at this time.
Smile more often
I don’t mean just a quick upturn of the lips, consciously choose to smile in a way that engages your whole being. Smile when talking on the phone, when talking to a shop assistant, when you greet your family. Smiling makes you feel good, and it makes the recipient feel good too.
Make time to talk to strangers
When my daughter was waiting for her liver transplant earlier this year I was totally worn out. One day I was getting into my car at Woolworths before heading into the hospital and wondering just how I was going to summon the energy to get through another day, when an elderly gentleman came up to me and asked me if I was okay. I asked him why he thought I might not be and he replied, “You are moving so slowly”. I stopped and talked to him for a few minutes, told him what I was going through, and he told me about his sister’s illness. Then we said goodbye. I have never seen him since yet his kindness to me that day lingers on. It was exactly what I needed at that time.
When you feel lonely look for a way to give something to someone else
This could be by performing a simple act of kindness, or it could be joining a community group. Whenever I need a pick me up I look at what I can give to someone else. Sometimes that’s having a conversation, doing volunteer work, or doing an act of kindness. It doesn’t always mean I connect with someone, but it always makes me feel good about me.
Join a group that shares a common interest
Communities are formed when groups of people who share a common interest come together. I read this morning of a group that meets to knit mittens for koalas hurt in bushfires. There are also groups that knit for kittens. Meetup is a great place to look for common interest groups, but if you can’t find one see if you can find one person who shares your interest and start your own, it could grow into something bigger.
We can all talk about what’s wrong with the world, and what is missing, but change begins with each one of us. By choosing to be part of the solution and reaching out to others today, we may just change our own life as well as helping others.