How I Overcame Loneliness by Starting a Neighborhood Group
The Benefits of Friends
Healthy social interchange with others contributes to an increase in physical and emotional well-being. Casual conversations with a neighbor at the mailbox, dinner with a few friends or even a quick wave to a friend driving by your house can improve your outlook and overall health. The Department of Health and Human Services published findings that show that people with a connected social group have lower blood pressure, a reduced risk of Alzheimers, heart disease and some cancers. People who lack consistent social interaction have a higher risk of depression which can have a direct effect on mortality.
In addition to the physical and emotional benefits, having a connected social network has financial benefits, too. Friends can save you money! Friends are more willing to loan you something than a stranger would be. An evening with friends can be cheaper than a night at the movies or a shopping binge. Friends can help with job connections and a conversation with a caring friend is far less expensive and can be much more valuable than an hour with a shrink.
Where Have All The Friends Gone?
A 2016 Harris Poll survey of 2000 adults found that almost one-third reported feeling lonely at least once a week. Blame it on the Smartphone and the rise of digital connection. According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, simply having your phone on the table during a meal can decrease the enjoyment of the face-to-face interaction. It's the anxiety of possible distraction combined with the fear of missing out on an important text or email that keeps us from fully engaging with one another.
In another study, this one published in Computers in Human Behavior, researchers found that people who had a smartphone with them smiled less and initiated fewer conversations with strangers. The sheer number of possible connections has dropped dramatically simply because we are more enamored with Candy Crush or YouTube than attempting to make polite conversation with another human being.
Coupled with the fact that our phones are almost another appendage during the day, once we make it home, other forms of technology -Smart TVs, computer and video games, gaming apps - woo us away from each other. Toss in the advent of seductive virtual reality, which allows us to have simulated relationships, we are engaging in fewer human interactions.
Using Technology To Connect Us
Fortunately, help is just around the corner or even right next door. Most of us live in neighborhoods with lots of people, many who are suffering just like us but don't know how to connect.
After joining a local neighborhood group on Facebook, I watched several neighbors "duke it out" over dog droppings in their yards behind nearly anonymous profiles. I thought, "If I could get these ladies to talk face-to-face, there would be much more grace and harmony." I decided to take a risk and invite all the ladies in my neighborhood over to my house for a Ladies Happy Hour. I advertised it on the neighborhood group page for about three weeks. I told them to just come to meet each other, that no one would know anyone else and there was no selling or covert agenda behind the Tuesday evening gathering except to get to know each other. Thirty women showed up that first night. The wine flowed, women chatted and connections were made. The next day, one of the ladies decided to start a Facebook page just for the ladies of our neighborhood. The first day, 12 women joined. By the end of the week, there were 50. By the end of the year, there were over 300 members of the closed group.
Women started reaching out.
"Amazon just delivered a package to my front door and I won't be home until late tonight. Can someone grab it for me?"
"My husband has a black tie affair and I need a size 10 cocktail dress. I don't own a single one. Anyone have one I can borrow?"
"I have a girl's bike I'm ready to give to Goodwill. Anyone want it?"
We started putting names with faces and treating each other with the warmth of sisterhood. Book clubs and Bunco nights began. Some invited others to watch chick flicks or try out a new restaurant. The camaraderie blossomed.
We appointed several of the ladies as administrators of the group's page and planned events to keep everyone connected. Our monthly Happy Hour gatherings were the cornerstone events that drew large numbers and new neighbors. Other events targeted people's specific interests. The result was a neighborhood of women who felt like there was someone in their own backyard that had their back.
How To Start A Neighborhood Group
Remember the children's program, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood? Mr. Rogers would welcome you to his neighborhood, pull on a cardigan sweater and take a walk around his street, meeting lots of friendly folks along the way. Would you like to be that kind of neighbor?
I took a leap of faith and wanted to be friendlier with my neighbors. Here's what I did:
- I joined my local neighborhood group on both Nextdoor.com and Facebook.com.
- I picked a date and time where most people would be home. My first event was at 7 PM on a Tuesday in April.
- I posted an Event on both general neighborhood sites. I called it The Neighborhood Ladies Happy Hour (for some strange reason, offering wine brought the ladies out in droves!)
- I said that any lady who lived in the neighborhood was welcome and that I would supply wine and a few light snacks. I didn't want people to feel like they had to bring anything to this event. At later events, I asked everyone to bring something to share.
- I indicated that this event was specifically to get to know each other, that no businesses would be advertised or present and that it would be FUN! I think one of the big draws was that almost no one would know any of the others but that they could bring a neighbor.
- I asked for RSVPs. These days, many people like to leave their calendars open so they don't RSVP but asking who is coming helps seal the commitment. If they said yes, it was more likely they would come than if they didn't respond.
- I gave a specific start and end time. I said the Happy Hour was from 7 PM to 9 PM so people didn't feel like they had to be there all night (although I finally kicked the last stragglers out the door at 11:30 PM at the first event!)
- I sent out a reminder via the neighborhood group pages one week in advance and again the day before to keep the excitement up.
- On the day of the event, I personally greeted everyone at the door and welcomed them. I then handed them off to another neighbor who was in charge of getting them something to drink and introducing them to any other neighbors who arrived.
- Each lady who arrived got a name tag with the name of her street on it so people could see who lived near them.
- I handed each lady a sheet of paper with questions on it. They had to find someone who could answer "yes" to each question. Once they completed the sheet, they won a prize (a bottle of wine or cider). Questions were easy, like, "Find someone who has the same number of children as you do," or, "Find someone who has the same hobby as you have." This helped ladies connect.
- I played loud music and had some disco lights going so it felt like a party. This was very important because it provided a lively vibe to gather in groups and chat. No one wants to stand around with strangers in silence (unless you are in an elevator.)
The group took it from there. One lady started the Facebook Group page; another volunteered to host the next Happy Hour and many others gushed about how much fun they had and what a great idea it was. It met my need to connect with neighbors and it started something much bigger than I had ever dreamed. Why not give it a try and watch your loneliness power off?