At the yoga studio where I teach, there’s a lot of talk about neighbors and community: the value of needing one another, how to build connections, when to introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. I initially felt sort of annoyed by this constant theme; it seemed so forced. Let it happen naturally! I thought to myself. Stop forcing people to be friends! Though I grew up in a small town where everyone knew my name, I moved to a big city after college, where I preferred the anonymity of quietly doing my own thing.
read this if you're in your saving era this summer
Then I had a baby, and that community I resisted belonging to? They threw me showers and set up meal trains and mailed notes with gift cards to my favorite coffee shop. They remembered my name when we crossed paths at the park and offered to babysit my dog. They made me feel, well, welcome.
However, a third of Americans today have never interacted with their neighbor. Due to family and friends who typically no longer live nearby, many people tend to spend their social capital differently. However, getting to know your neighbors—whether its the person who literally lives next door or more generally, the person standing next to you momentarily—has all sorts of mental, physical, and emotional benefits. Here are a few to consider.
1. You get access to information and resources.
The old “borrow a cup of sugar” adage holds true once you meet your neighbors—it can also save you time and money. I’ve knocked on someone’s door to ask for everything from an extension cord to extra tampons (seriously!). If you live in an a house rather than an apartment or condo, this can be particularly helpful in terms of yard work and house maintenance.
Another practical resource: the neighborhood gossip. Yes, he or she might dwell on dumb details that don’t matter, but they also might have a wealth of information regarding who’s who, what’s happening in various families, as well as historical facts of your street, house, or city. Avoid the rude, intrusive or mean stuff, of course, but don’t ignore the value of meeting the person who holds the social key to your ‘hood.
Source: Classic Casual Home
2. Your neighborhood becomes safer.
A friend of mine uses the NextDoor app to stay connected with her neighbors, and once used it to report an attempted break-in at her home. As a result, someone in her neighborhood spotted the intruder, who was arrested later that day. Pretty cool, right?
All it takes is a simple hello once in a while to foster a small connection, which can form a later sense of being part of a bigger “family.”
Many people rely on their neighbors to “keep an eye out” when they’re traveling or at work for any suspicious people or activity on their street. You don’t need be technologically savvy to do this; all it takes is a simple hello once in a while to foster a small connection, which can form a later sense of being part of a bigger “family.” And in case of emergency, it is much easier to go to someone you know rather than a complete stranger.
3. You learn new things.
I often meet someone and immediately make assumptions based on my first impressions that turn out to be incorrect later on. I try to keep this in mind with neighbors, too—it’s easy for me to think I know people I see fairly frequently on a casual basis, but when I take the time to actually get to know them, I’m usually surprised by what I learn.
Like…the burly dude walking on the treadmill, the one I thought was kind of lazy. Nope. He had actually just received the green light to exercise after breaking his ankle traveling the world while writing a book, no big deal. Or the preppy couple who spend their free time at EDM concerts. Or the doctor who rode a motorcycle to work every day in scrubs. Or the young hipster dude in the process of opening several local restaurants. I could go on and on—my point is that once I started paying attention to the people living around me, my eyes were opened to all sorts of life experiences different than my own, which is always a good thing.
4. You receive support and help.
When my sister and her fiancé moved into their first house, every single family came over with a tray of baked goods and a list of phone numbers. Now, that behavior would be considered above-and-beyond in most circles, and it definitely isn’t the norm—but imagine how nice it felt for them to be seen and acknowledged.
Community doesn’t magically appear overnight. It usually stems from a series of small actions over time.
It goes both ways, too. You don’t have to become best friends with the people in your building or neighborhood, but you could offer to help them out when appropriate and possible. Share the extra tomatoes from your garden, offer to babysit, invite them over for a beer, mow the stretch of grass next to their driveway. Community doesn’t magically appear overnight; it usually stems from a series of small actions over time. Make these small deposits of kindness so that when you need your neighbor to help you in some fashion, they’ll gladly return the favor.
5. You feel good.
I polled a group friends about the subject of this article, and overwhelmingly, the vast majority said they preferred to know their neighbors because it feels good. It’s “home-y” to say hello in passing on a walk, wave when you’re driving past another’s house, smile on the elevator.
But if you’re anything like me, you might know the names of most of the dogs in my neighborhood, but not their owners. When a dog mom or dad greets me by name, I feel like a total jerk—because it’s so nice to be known by name! Luckily, this is a tiny action that requires only a bit of effort and intention for major social contract benefits. When people know you by name, and vice versa, it creates warm fuzzier interactions and also makes both parties more inclined to look out for each other or be of service “if you need anything.”
6. Your social circle expands.
I used to live in an apartment building with a pool. In the summers, every time I sat out on the deck, I met someone new—and slowly, I started to see a familiar face daily, which led to several beautiful friendships that are still going strong years later. That’s not to suggest that I became close pals with everyone, but even of the people I didn’t necessarily click with, I discovered an expanded social circle that led to far-reaching ties and meaningful connections in work and play.
And if that’s not enough reason to meet your neighbors, consider this: A friend of mine met her now-husband because he lived next door and said hi on his way home from work one day. Another friend asked his neighbor to pretend to be his girlfriend at the gym so they could both get a discount; they’re now married. So it just goes to show, you never know where your next “hello” will take you.