When I moved into my first home, with a 3-year-old, it was scary and a little lonely at first. What helped enormously were the wonderful neighbours I had. I often had coffee, a meal or a chat with one lot of neighbours, while my adjoining neighbours, a young married couple with a daughter the same age as Lisa, were a Godsend. That neighbour often brought my washing in if it looked like it was going to rain, checked up on me if she hadn’t seen me for a few days, and cooked for us when I was sick. We also minded each other’s children for short periods when necessary. That was my first real taste of what is was like to live in a supportive community.
Several years later I moved into another rented home in Lugarno, where I also had two wonderful neighbours. One had a pool which we were invited us to use any time. I often had coffee and a chat in my neighbour’s kitchen on a Saturday afternoon. The other neighbour would ask if I needed anything taken to the tip and told me to call on him if I ever needed any help. When my mother had her first heart attack my father contacted my neighbour who picked up Lisa from school and looked after her so I could go to the hospital. Every Christmas, for six years, we had breakfast at either one of our neighbour’s home, whilst another neighbour, who was a member of the Salvation Army, sang carols outside. I only moved out of that home because the owners, who had been living overseas, decided to return home, otherwise I suspect I’d still be there today. Since then I’ve lived in houses where most of the time I don’t even see my neighbours, let alone talk to them.
I found this statistic interesting. Sarah Pressman, from the University of California discovered that: obesity reduces longevity by 20%, drinking by 30%, smoking by 50% and loneliness by 70%. Social connection is something we are losing and it’s one of the most important ingredients for health and happiness.
Why we’ve lost our connection
A lot of people say we have lost our connection because we are too busy, and while some of that may be true, I don’t believe it’s the only reason. I know that when I lived at Lugarno my career was really taking off and I worked incredibly hard, but I always had time for a coffee and chat, or even to help out my neighbours.
The leading cause of death in Australia, and increasingly throughout the Western world, is heart disease. Of course, a lot of that can be attributed to our diet and way of living, but it can also indicate the impact this lack of connection is having on us. Just look at these statistics:
- Depression is the leading cause of disability world wide and an estimated 45% of people will experience a mental health condition (According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics).
- Between 2011 and 2014 1 in 9 Americans took antidepressants, whereas 30 years ago that number was 1 in 50 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
- Suicide statistics have increased over the past ten years and are now at the highest levels ever.
What’s coincided with these alarming statistics is the introduction of technology. I’m a lover of technology and I run a business that uses a lot of technology, so I am not knocking it, but what we all need to think about is the impact technology has had on the way we connect with others.
The reason we are not connecting the way we once did, in my opinion, is that we fear rejection. When we used to ring people not everyone had time to talk, and we accepted that, we didn’t take those rejections personally. We would knock on the door of a new neighbour. We would walk up to a stranger and start a conversation, and sometimes people would look at us strangely but we survived. Now we take the easier route, we message, text and connect over social media and in doing so a vital skill that once developed naturally, has gotten weaker.
If we want the world to change, we have to be willing to put ourselves out there. We need to stop worrying about what other people think of us. We need to be prepared to reach out and fail, then pick ourselves up and try again. We need to smile at strangers more. Take a chance and join a group or do something new. And don’t wait for people to talk to you, be the one to start the conversation. Not everyone you meet is going to be someone you’ll want to be friends with, but it’s the act of being open that tends to draw people to us.
I believe that one of the major contributors to depression is a loss of hope. When we don’t believe that anything will change what is there to look forward to. Hope gives us the courage and is something we all need to hold onto, because without hope we will never develop, or maintain, resilience, the two are inextricably intertwined.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.