True fact: A huge body of research shows that we contribute more to our individual and world happiness when we are interconnected with and contribute to larger groups of people. That is why I thought I would let you have some directions for building or strengthening a really cool, individualized version of own personal community. I have taken these directions from my book How To Be Alive: A Guide To The Kind of Happiness That Helps The World.
So many lifequesters I’ve met and emailed with are placing a new priority on social interconnectedness—modern forms of what we used to call “community”—rather than pursuing the standard life approach of exclusively looking for romantic connection. Research shows that social interconnectedness—as much as and sometimes more than romantic connection—is a predictor of personal success, personal happiness, and contribution to the world. It is a big subject so I am going to give it to you in two chunks. But here is the first:
Envision Your Community As You Would Your Career
We all spend so much time envisioning what our career will look like—imagine if we gave that same aspirational energy to the kind of social connection we would like. Who are you? What don’t you have in your life that would help you grow, be happy, and give to the world? What kind of group might support and bring out what is hidden within you? What would be fun? This isn’t to say that your personal community must always be composed in the same way. What our personal community looks like should change according to what we need from it. But what emphasis do you want your personal community to have? Here is a sampling of types other people have built:
The term is mine, but the type is based on clusters discussed in Ethan Watters’s book Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines Friendship, Family, and Commitment. Mostly, the people get together for dinner parties or hikes or other activities; hang together; drop into each other’s houses; and provide one another with social, emotional, and practical support. To make a group like this, Ethan told me, “The key thing is ritual. Tuesday-night dinners, say. Maybe an annual trip. Do the same thing over and over again and it lends itself to the building of a story about the group that people value.”
My favorite example of this type involved my friend May Boeve and the other Middlebury graduates who started the climate change organization 350.org with Bill McKibben. May and a group of other students who were concerned about climate change regularly had dinner together on Sunday nights.
They bonded over their values and the issues they cared about and became best friends. When college was over, they had built so much trust, affection, and shared vision that it was an easy leap to begin the climate change organization that eventually became 350.org. “I wanted to expand the circle so other worried people had a place to go,” May told me.
A law professor at the University of Kentucky, Melynda Price, turned thirty-five and didn’t want to wait until she found the right partner to have a baby. She was far from her given family in New Orleans and new to Lexington, so having a personal community willing to behave like committed family members has been crucial to her. How did she build her group? “I decided to never stay home alone. I always went to the same coffee shop and worked. People got to know me. When the invitations started, I never turned one down. I always answer the phone and always open the door. I try to always be there. I will pick up the slack for other people if they need me to.” In short, Melynda was to other people what she wanted them to be to her. Of course, these are in no way the only manners in which you can make your own community. But to build the one that suits you best, begin by understanding what you want.
How To Create a Vision for Your Own Personal Tribe
- Write down what you want your community to be. Take some time to brainstorm. What role in your life do you want your community to ll? Security? Excitement? Challenge?
- What days or nights do you want to be social? Do you want your group to be mostly reliable or mostly crazy and fun? How many really close friends? How many pals to go out with? Who would you like hanging out at your house for Sunday brunch?
- Maybe you have lots of confidants but now need someone to party with. Maybe you have lots of people to party with but no confidants. Maybe you want support. Maybe you want to talk about the world’s problems more. Maybe you want to play badminton.
- Take some time over a few days to begin to jot down a picture of what you would like.
In Part 2, I will offer some very clear directions for making your vision a reality, but for now, just ask yourself, what could you do in 15 minutes today that would begin to make your vision a reality? Do it.
PS I would love to hear your own thoughts and experience with building your own personal community. Please tell me in the comments below.