10 Weeks to Wellbeing: Week 9 – Community & Environment
[First published in my Irish Sunday Mirror wellbeing column, 9th Nov ’14.]
In previous weeks, we’ve looked at our relationships with ourselves, our partners and family and close friends. This week we’ll shift our attention to the bigger picture, looking at the communities we belong to and the environments we live in.
No (wo)man is an island
I’m writing this from Finland, home of Moomin-creator Tove Jansson, whose much-loved books share an underlying theme: our competing human desires for personal space and independence and for ‘belonging’. Whilst all relationships bring challenges, being connected to others is a basic human need. Positive psychologist Martin Seligman moved from his early focus on ‘happiness theory’ to creating a ‘wellbeing theory‘*, which isn’t just about feeling good, but also about having engagement, meaning, good relationships, and accomplishment1. Being an active member in a community gives us opportunities to boost all of these elements, for ourselves and others.
Let’s start by listing the communities you’re a member of – communities you live, work or study in; groups of like-minded or interest-sharing people; communities with a common cause; or groups of people fulfilling the same roles in life as you, such as carers, parents or ex-pats. Write them all down and add your ideas about the following:
- Which of these communities matter most to you?
- Where do you feel you’re making a contribution?
- Where do you think you’re gaining from being part of the group?
- Do you belong to too many communities?
- Do you belong to too few?
It’s important to find a balance that works for you, in terms of the time and energy you devote to people, and taking care of yourself. To come up with a plan for boosting your community wellbeing, ask yourself:
- Which communities aren’t supportive for me (any more)? Do I need to try and change things – including my own attitude – or do I need to leave?
- What new communities could I find and join? What would be the first step to take?
- Which of my strengths can I use to benefit the communities I belong to or would like to join? What kind of tasks or roles could I volunteer for?
From your answers, write down some goals and small actions you can take to achieve them.
Of course, in this digitally connected age, we’re not limited to the local communities we’re a part of – we can find and connect with like-minded people and causes we’re passionate about all over the world. If you feel like you haven’t yet found your ‘tribe’, you could check out online forums for whatever areas you’re interested in. Whether you’re happy to keep things virtual or want to use online technologies to find people to meet up with in real life, there are many meaningful conversations taking place online in any given moment, amid all the celebrity gossip and pictures of cats. It’s just a question of how you’re using the tools! Search meetup.com and Facebook groups for local events around various themes, and consider joining couchsurfing.com – whether or not you can host someone, you can find use the site to meet people in/visiting your area.
Now let’s look at your immediate environment. Are your workplace, your home, your local area, your country even, healthy environments where you can flourish? If not, what changes can you make to improve things, either directly, or by asking someone with power and influence to make changes? How much time do you spend in nature, getting fresh air, sunlight and a bit of greenery? Make a list of changes you’d like to see in your environment, and write down any actions you can take, information you might need and people you can approach for help.
Maybe you want to leave your current environment completely, to boost your career opportunities, for adventure or just to find a place that feels like a better fit for you? We say ‘the grass is always greener’, but often we stay too long in environments that aren’t healthy for us; sometimes the best option is to leave.
Perhaps a temporary change of environment is all you need for a recharge; when did you last enjoy a change of scenery? If money is an issue, you might like to check out home-swapping or house-sitting schemes, which allow you to stay in someone else’s home rent-free whilst maintaining the property and perhaps caring for pets. Websites like www.housecarers.com list opportunities worldwide for minding other people’s homes, and if you’re wiling to care for cats, dogs, horses – or even llamas! – the opportunities are even greater.
If you’re self-employed and can work online, as I do, you can keep your customers in one country whilst being based in another. (Do seek advice about tax, insurance and so on from qualified sources in both countries.) More and more companies allow home-working these days too, opening up doors for you to relocate whilst keeping your current job. See fourhourworkweek.com for great strategies and ideas. If you’re interested in studying abroad, certain countries offer free third-level education (I’m studying a free master’s in music psychology here in Finland), or you may be eligible for scholarships, depending on your field of study and particular circumstances. Check out www.studyportals.eu.
How about the wider environment? We all have a duty of care to the planet that sustains us, and the generations to come who’ll depend on it as we do. There are lots of ways in which we can lessen our impact on the planet; perhaps the key one is to focus on the ‘reduce’ of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’. Where can you reduce your waste, consumption, and carbon footprint, saving yourself money in the process? Simple changes include:
- using reusable storage instead of cling film or tin foil
- drinking tap or filtered water instead of buying plastic bottles
- avoiding disposables in general – plastic/polystyrene cups, paper plates etc; choose reusable!
- buying eco-friendly cleaning products
- regularly de-frosting and cleaning the coils on the back of your fridge to increase efficiency
- switching from private to public transport, cycling or walking where possible (get a bike basket or backpack)
- buying local produce – check out veggie box schemes in your area
There are lots of websites offering inspiration and ideas; start with www.treehugger.com.
Next week, we’re going to pull it all together – in the meantime, you can see previous weeks’ articles and additional links at www.dreamdolove.com.
Next week: Making change stick (extended special)
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