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It's easy to fall in love with your town when you move-in: an empty floor plan has tons of possibilities. Before you lies all of the possibilities a clean slate has to offer when you restart your life. But once the cobwebs settle in the corners, and a few years worth of leaves decay in the front yard, it's easy to become disillusioned with the place you call home.
Jobs change. People move. Paint chips. Things lose their shine.
And those hopes for a fresh new start?
It seems they could use a fresh polishing, too, just like that silver bracelet you forgot you had.
How I Fell In-and-Out of Love with my Town Again
When I first moved into my house 12 years ago, I couldn't believe my luck. Finally, I lived on a street that belonged on tv. I knew all of my neighbors. We had holiday get togethers for July 4th and planned how to decorate the entire street for Halloween and Christmas.
Someone would call, and off you would go to dinner or Michaels or antiquing. It always varied. It was fun. It was like neighborhoods were supposed to be.
Then it turned cold. And we all went inside for the winter. Things were never quite the same. We talked if there was a hurricane coming or a new neighbor moving in or if the mailman was shaking his head while fussing at us. But we didn't have neighborhood parties anymore. No one even put up decorations for the holidays.
As the town leadership changed, and potholes grew and the street sweeper never came by anymore, even my love for the cutest little house in the world began to disappear.
I hated living here.
Everything felt broken and bleak.
Until the day I started walking.
Day after day, I did the same path around the neighborhood. I started noticing familiar faces. Some were cheery, others were still halfway asleep. There were three-legged dogs chasing after me, and the same old Chevy truck that I always passed.
As the days turned into weeks, I began smiling and waving at the people I saw over and over.
They waved back.
A few weeks later, one would ask if I had noticed the unusual number of cats wandering around. Another would ask where my dogs were if I was walking without them dragging me all over the place.
Some even stopped and said they looked forward to crossing paths with me on their morning run to the Piggly Wiggly (yes, he is my 82 year-old boyfriend).
Before I knew it, things felt different. There were still pot holes down the main road. But instead of silent houses lining the route on the dogs' walk, there were now filled with friends I looked forward to waving at each day. (I dread the really windy, cold days and the days where it's raining like crazy when I can't walk and talk to my neighborhood friends.)
Why It Matters…
In her book Hold Me Tight, Sue Johnson said, “Most of us no longer live in supportive communities with our birth families or childhood friends close at hand. We work longer and longer hours, commute farther and father distances, and thus have fewer and fewer opportunities to develop close relationships.”
As our phones allow us to connect with classmates we haven't seen in 20 years, it's easy to pay more attention online to people we may not have even met in person, rather than the person just over the fence. Researchers are finding more and more links to the impact that connection and socialization have on our physical and emotional health.
In fact, social integration has been linked as the top way to increase the length of your life. Social integration is how much you interact with people as you move throughout your day, and it includes everyone you talk to- whether you're close to them or they are acquaintances.
- Do you say hello to the postal worker who delivers your mail?
- When you drive past the same mom at the park with her kids every afternoon, do you wave at her?
- Do you make eye-contact and smile at the person checking you out in Target?
- When was the last time you stopped for a couple of minutes and talked to your neighbor about her garden?
Those interactions matter. Not only do they improve your mental health (happiness) and physical health (living longer), but that social integration will also improve the health of your teeny, tiny, never-changing town. 🙂
(I jumped the Ted Talk to the place where she talks specifically about this.)
Feeling a little uneasy about striking up a conversation with someone? Be sure to grab the cheat sheet…
How to Fall in Love with Your Town Again
Here are some ideas for you to try out to help revitalize your relationship with your town.
- Make eye contact and smile with everyone you see. No matter where you are- in the store or even the town hall, just do it! Not only will it release endorphins in your own brain, but the mirror neurons will activate in the other person's mind- spreading happiness to everyone!
- Wave when you pass by others. Whether you are in a car or you are walking by, waving helps create a sense of community. Don't forget those who are working when you pass by- construction workers, road crews, postal workers, sanitation crews, and the meter readers. They can become your biggest friends!
- Say hello! Even if you are the shyest introvert on the block, this one will go a long way. You never know what a simple “hi” will turn into.
- Volunteer. Many of those things you wish would change in your town are dependend upon bodies. That's right-PEOPLE! From the PTA to clean-up committee for the parks and rec department to the art council to the friends of the library to the local church that connects to the back of your property to the 5K run committee- there are lots of ways to get involved. Double bonus- you'll make friends! (This will really chase away the blues and that funk you've been in for ages.)
- Attend a local festival, parade, or other celebration. Even if you're just there for the food, getting out and being a part of something feels good. You don't have to stay long, just show up for a bit!
- Have your own tradition. Maybe you and the neighbors all power wash on the same day each spring. Maybe you change out the garden flags when the town puts up holiday flags along the light posts. Maybe you wheel your neighbor in her wheelchair down for the Christma tree lighting ceremony. Whatever it is- pick something and notice how it creates a sense of connection when you do it year after year.
- Vote. It's amazing the people you meet waiting in line to vote. You don't have to like the same candidates to be friendly and to meet people. I have so much fun talking with the poll workers in my precinct, that they have invited me to join them! But this can also impact those who make the decision to help make improvements in your town.
- Share things from your garden. Even if you grow herbs growing in containers on your small patio, you don't have to have acres and acres of never-ending tomatoes to have something to share with those across the way. Such a simple gesture goes a long way.
- Shop local. Even though it's super convenient to click that button for free two-day delivery, there's something about the person across the counter from you knowing your name. You're much more likely to get terrific customer service, too.
My town still has a long list of things that drive me bonkers. And I am eagerly awaiting for the water line replacement project that has torn up the neighborhood to be completed.
But taking my daily walks has allowed me to see details I have never noticed in 11 years. Instead of being surrounded by strangers, it feels like I am surrounded by friends (even if I still don't know all of their names). I know their dogs (and even their chickens). I know when their beautiful bulbs bloom and whose children help in the yard.
Instead of focusing on all of the things that are lacking, instead, I am able to see all of the sweet and simple details that make my tiny little town home.