Being a part of a community and feeling a sense of belonging is an often overlooked contributor to happiness. Learn the importance of community and little actions you can take to strengthen your community.
As I’m sitting down to write this post, I’m struggling. Every Wednesday for the past six months, I’ve shared an article on holistic approaches to wellness, all aimed at helping you lovely readers be the healthiest and happiest version of you. In those posts, I’ve encouraged you to be selfish and put your needs first, to set aside time to meditate and to make changes to your eating habits that will make you feel amazing.
Basically, I’ve written 24 articles about self care.
It’s an important topic, obviously. Otherwise I wouldn’t have wasted days of my life writing about it. But this week, it seems almost frivolous.
As you all know, tragedy hit our community here in South Carolina with the horrific murders at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. I am so incredibly sad and just can’t seem to stop thinking about it. Maybe it’s because it was in my home state. Knowing the terrorist went to school just a mile and a half from our house is horrifying and I am appalled such evil could come from my city. Or maybe it’s because there was no mental illness that can at least partially make sense of what happened. This was purely motivated by hatred. The two times I’ve been to an African American church, I have never felt so welcome and loved, not even in the house I grew up in. That’s not meant as a slight to my parents, that’s just legitimately how I was welcomed. For someone to commit murder after being greeted and accepted like that just shows the depth of their hatred.
While reading about the victims, I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that each was deeply involved with their community, striving to make it a better place through their work in the church, politics, education, and coaching. A friend of mine who knows Clementa Pinckney said “he was the closest thing to a perfect human being I’ve ever met.”
Despite the sadness, my heart has been warmed by the incredible displays of support, love and unity throughout our state. From the unity chain across the Ravenel Bridge to peaceful rallies to take down the Confederate flag to church services all over the state to honor the victims, it’s been beautiful to see our community come together to honor the victims.
All this got me thinking, what good is our personal wellness if our community isn’t well? There’s such a huge focus on personal growth these days, but what does it matter how healthy and happy we are if our community is not?
When you look at studies on happiness, being a part of a community is an often overlooked, but important aspect. Clearly your friends and family with whom you have deep connections with can affect happiness, but so does the guy who plays violin outside of your local grocery store and the neighbor who always has treats for your dogs and the farmer at the market who gets really excited talking about his produce. These small daily interactions make us feel like part of a community, like we belong. Being a part of a strong community can even increase your longevity – just look at the Blue Zones, all of which prioritize community in their culture.
We can also look at that in reverse. When we welcome and accept others and treat them kindly, it improves their sense of happiness and belonging. Smiling at a stranger, saying hello to a neighbor, opening a door – all these tiny actions set off a chain of events that nurture a happy and healthy community. Happiness is contagious and every day, you have a chance to be patient zero!
The victims at Emanuel AME knew this. That’s why they happily welcomed the man who would eventually murder them in to their church. I can only imagine they saw deep pain in his eyes and responded the best way they knew how. By loving him.
In my humble opinion, the best way we can honor the victims is by continuing their work in strengthening their community with love and acceptance for others. I encourage you to think about this as you go throughout your week. Sure, you can give back by volunteering, shopping locally or giving money to a charity. That’s great and fantastic and I encourage you to do so! But don’t underestimate the importance of your day-to-day interactions, which may be even more important.
Here in South Carolina, we’re known for smiling at strangers. If you’re not from our state, it might freak you out a bit. But as I think about it, I believe that habit is a big part of the reason why our community has been able to come together and strengthen over this tragedy. For my non-South Carolina readers, I hope you’ll take a little bit of my state with you this week and smile with love and acceptance to each and every person you meet.
Also, a special thanks to my friend Jonathan, who not only welcomed me with love and acceptance when I moved to a new town after college, but also let me use his awesome South Carolina graphic for this post. His “I Heart SC” logo definitely takes on an extra-special meaning after this week. I know my SC friends will want to rock some state pride, so check out his Etsy shop!