Creating a village in our communities A strong social network makes a difference in living a long, happy life

It’s no secret our society has moved away from face-to-face contact. With the arrival of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, we’ve become accustomed to interacting with people digitally rather than in person.

I’m no different. I work from home and often keep in touch with people through Facebook, texting, and emailing. For the most part, I’m okay with my alone time. But I crave in-person contact and feel more satisfied when I actually see my friends and family.

According to Susan Pinker, author of The Village Effect, there’s a huge difference in seeing people face-to-face and interacting with them online. Pinker led the third installment of the “Hello, how are you?” speaker series at Stanley Milner Public Library.

“We know a sense of isolation in the city is far from unique,” said Coun. Scott McKeen, who introduced Pinker. McKeen created the series to begin talking about social isolation. He explained creating better social networks improves mental health.

“Our relationships have an impact on our brain,” said Pinker. According to surveys, 30 per cent of people feel isolated. And while in-person contact increases trust, pleasure, and the number of people we can lean on during tough times, digital contact lowers that number.  

Having a social network means more than staving off loneliness or finding someone to trust; it can mean living a happy, long life.

Pinker described an isolated mountain village she visited in Sardinia, Italy, which had a high number of centenarians (people over the age of 100). The main reason for longevity was the strong social network and social integration.

“Those factors hugely impact how long you live.” Pinker defined a social network as “real people that you really see, day to day.” This includes neighbours, friends, and family.

Having a social network is important, regardless of whether you are extroverted, introverted, cheerful or grumpy. Pinker described one centenarian who was grouchy, but still had people around him.

“It’s not one personality type that lends itself to a long life,” said Pinker.

In the village, Pinker said she always saw a crowd of people. “The elders are never left alone.”

The village’s design also helped because of the village square, an area where people see each other and interact daily. Pinker called those areas “third spaces”: social hubs unrelated to home or work.

Our cities are no longer designed with a village square, but we can create third spaces ourselves. Creating a social place can be as simple as placing chairs and tables somewhere so people can interact.

“Most third spaces are commercial (like coffee shops). It’s important for third spaces to be free.”

While our communities have many wonderful places to meet friends and family, a third space would be a way to continue creating connections. Yes, we have parks and libraries, but this could be a unique opportunity to create a place to meet, talk, and make new friends. This could be the chance to create a village in our communities.

Header Image: Community residents visit during the annual Rubber Boots & Bow Tie Garden Party. Social hub spaces are important for creating community connections which enhance an individual’s health and well-being. Credit: Karen Mykietka

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