Most of us grew up in some iteration of a community. Within it, there was usually an assortment of friends, neighbors, co-workers and relatives, who for years remained relatively stable presences in our lives.
However, when we head out on our own far from home, that sense of community often falls away. Disconnection can follow with our insular, digitally-saturated lifestyle, long work hours, long commutes and little down time, making modern life anything but conducive to creating community. And all that adds up to profound loneliness, the kind that makes physical, emotional and mental health suffer, in potentially disastrous ways.
If your goal is to live a healthy and happy life, I urge you to make connection and community an essential part of your wellness equation. Not sure how to go about it? Here are some ideas to help you master the somewhat forgotten art of connection – and reap its life-sustaining benefits:
What’s in it for me?
Creating community or ‘finding your tribe,’ offers a number of mood-elevating, well-being benefits that include, inspiration and motivation; a sense of purpose and meaning; the opportunity to improve your life and positively impact others; an expanded social circle; and the potential for personal and professional growth, to name a few. Those who connect by choosing the volunteering route, enjoy less loneliness and depression, better blood pressure numbers and enhanced longevity, according to Harvard Medical School.
Where’s my tribe?
While there still are plenty of traditional communities out there, complete with cul-de-sacs, PTAs, houses of worship and the white picket fence, for those in more urban or non-conventional settings, finding community may take a bit more effort. The good news is that people are recognizing their fundamental need to connect in person, in real-time, and coming up with new ways to do it. Be it an arts or music festival where families camp out for several days at a time; a team racing over rigorous terrain or marching for a worthy cause; or like-minded people exchanging skills and ideas and teaching workshops — finding a tribe is more possible than ever, thanks to the major search engines. You’ll find people who share your dreams, can help share your challenges, and even be there to pick you up at 2:00 a.m. when your car breaks down.
Look for community that’s real, deep and non-digital.
Finding a tribe isn’t quite the same as going on a group vacation or night out with your friends. It goes deeper and involves coming together for shared experiences that may require some effort and commitment, plus a shared goal or mission. It involves a level of interdependence, in which individuals rely on each other to meet basic needs, plus, consistency – going beyond fleeting moments, and engaging with the same folks multiple times. A tribe typically also demands a level of challenge. Real bonds often require vulnerability, perhaps a bit of discomfort, and a genuine need for giving and receiving.
Find your tribe.
How to find or make a tribe? Are a few ways to go about it:
Shake it up.
Make the effort to move outside your usual stomping grounds and go to where tribes are forming. MeetUp.com is a great place to start. Try things you might not normally do, like dancing at dawn with the Daybreaker tribe, joining a book club or knitting group; volunteering to read to the elderly or tutor kids. Just get started and find something that that speaks to your interests or your soul.
Throw caution to the wind (within reason).
Instead of getting stuck in an endless, O.C.D.-like cycle of ‘what if’s’, commit to driving to that festival or fair even though it’s far away and you’re not sure about those porta-potties, and the food might be disappointing, and the weather might be bad and, blah, blah, blah. Take a chance, go full steam ahead, and if there are bumps in the road, think of them as opportunities to think on your feet, solve problems on the fly, have a bit of an adventure and meet some interesting people along the way.
Double down – the more the merrier.
The thing about community is that you don’t need to stop at just one. For some people, more is even better – it all comes down to understanding how much of yourself you’re willing to give. For example, join a group at a wellness or educational retreat, or perhaps an herbal conference where you learn about healing plants. Round-up a group for hikes, cycling or wilderness trips. Try linking up with other parents to trade off and meet childcare needs. Engage in a group movement practice, be it a festive Zumba class or a relaxing tai chi class. Get more involved with a meditation group, or church, temple, or mosque, or another spiritual group that appeals. Volunteer for community projects that involve commitment and creating something together. If you find yourself over-doing it with one of your tribes, take the occasional pause, but don’t quit. Come back and do it all again at a level that works for you.
Think of the possibilities!
When it comes to finding your tribe, the world is your oyster. Here are a few other ideas to inspire your hunt: