If you were asked how you would define ‘community’ what would you say? Perhaps you would mention your work colleagues or even an online meet-up group. In some cases it’s difficult to know where to start, especially if we have a tendency to spend a lot of time on our own.
According to the English Dictionary (2015) community refers to ‘a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.’ Historically the idea of neighbours and commonalities were often synonymous, with nearby residents often forming solid friendships that subsequently created our sense of community. However as the ever demanding and complex world evolves, the idea of community has dramatically changed with it. It now extends far beyond those who live just around the corner (if we even know their name at all!) to online communities and friendships that surpass geographical restrictions.
As a result this new trend provides both an opportunity to engage with a variety of exciting people who were previously inaccessible, and challenges and confusion relating in particular to the virtual ways of communicating. Naturally therefore, today’s idea of community has had mixed impacts on this domain of wellbeing.
Interestingly through Yoke Consultancy’s ‘wellbeing at work’ research ‘Networks’ were ranked as the second lowest in importance for defining an individual’s overall wellbeing in the office. Despite this, networking opportunities remain a high priority for HR agendas, predominantly as this area typically scores the lowest in self assessed wellbeing surveys, and it seems the most obvious thing to do to address it.
The reality is 60 percent of us will have attended a ‘Management brown bag’ in the last few months, out
of office hours, and wondered what it was supposed to achieve. And if anything felt frustrated at the fact you had to compromise your personal time to do so. However, as reflected by the wave of community based projects in the last decade, community does matter and it’s important to put effort into cultivating it. In particular as identified by UK Public Health (2014), if we fail to acknowledge our wider support group we become exposed to greater risks of loneliness and associated symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Our individual and organisation’s outlook to this matter is therefore critical to our wider wellbeing. However to address it authentically we not only have to consider the obvious but also redefine in our heads the process of consciously and subconsciously creating communities.
With this in mind, we turn to the work of Paul Dolan, a Professor at LSE who specialises in behavioural science. I was fortunate enough to attend Hay Festival last week, where he spoke about his recent work ‘Happiness by Design.’ Paul reflected on the idea of ‘manufacturing happiness’ through our routine habits in life. In particular he focused on the accustomed way in which we interact with our physical and virtual community. He spoke about how the small and big choices we consciously make, whether it be where we work; how we commute; or which supermarket we shop in, all work together to shape our subconscious ‘production of happiness.’ In essence if we design daily rituals that heighten our chances of meeting like-minded and positive people, we simultaneously expose ourselves to more stimuli that can transform our feelings into happiness and wellbeing.
The idea of community therefore is not necessarily just about planned or prescribed activities, but also relates to the often unexpected possibilities that come through an authentic interaction with a new person. This exchange can open you up to greater support and more interestingly, a healthy perspective that enables you to step outside of yourself and give to others.
So with this in mind I set you a challenge:
In the next week make one small change to your daily life that will expose you to the potential of
meeting new people that you perceive as happy and well. It could be as simple as changing your route to work to instead walk past the local yoga studio, or buying a ticket to the ‘Health at Work
Summit’ on 11th June!
What ever it is, repeat as often as is feasible and with an open mind see if such a simple ‘redesign’ brings any change to your sense of community and wellbeing.