Do you know what changes our behavior? Our friends. Our neighbors. Our communities. Do you know what makes us happy? Our friends. Our neighbors. Our communities. Social psychology research tells us that social support and social norms can help lead to long-term behavior change, and that the more you engage in your community, build social ties, and find purpose in life, the happier you’ll be.
Apparently, most of us really care about what everyone else is doing—so much so that we’re more likely to reuse our towels at a hotel if we learn that the majority of other guests are doing the same thing. This message is much more effective than, say, statistics-heavy cards telling us about the environmental or financial savings of towel reuse. We are social animals: we want to connect with others, and the social norms of our culture and communities influence what we consider to be normal. In addition, the more we create social connectedness in our lives and spend even small amounts of time volunteering, the better we feel about ourselves and our lives.
The Charlottesville, Virginia-based Center for a New American Dream recently surveyed its members and found that there’s a pent up demand for more social interaction with neighbors. More than 70 percent of folks who took part in the survey are also looking for more opportunities to volunteer and make their communities better places to live and thrive. In response, New Dream has created its Collaborative Communities neighbor-to-neighbor program to help people around the country come together in their own backyards to make change.
As part of this program, New Dream has created a free and easy-to-use Community Action Kit and solutions-based Webinar Series. The initial focus has been on fostering systems of sharing—from creating lending libraries (toys, tools, seeds) and forming cooperatives (solar energy, babysitting, food), to hosting community swaps (books, food, clothing) and facilitating barter systems (time banks and skillshares).
Sharing resources is becoming increasingly popular as communities across the United States suffer from the effects of community fragmentation, economic downturn, and environmental degradation. Many folks are finding that it’s more fun and more neighborly to swap, borrow, or trade the many things we own that sit untouched for most of the year or get thrown away. For example, the average American uses his or her car only 8 percent of the time, while the average power drill is used only 6–13 minutes in its lifetime. And we waste close to $22 billion a year to pay for storage to house all of our excess stuff!
In May, New Dream will release the second guide in its Community Action Kit, the Guide to Going Local, in collaboration with BALLE, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. The guide and accompanying webinars will encourage people to start their own community projects and share success stories in helping to build local pride, invest money locally, stimulate local entrepreneurship, and use fun events like cash mobs and pitchfests to encourage communities to support local businesses.
There are fun and creative ways to be neighborly that feed our social self, help set new positive social norms and help us create healthier and happier places to live, work and play. Why not get started today!?
Illustration by Josef Beery
On April 27, 2013, host a Neighborday party. Join this global celebration and follow the conversation at good.is/neighboring.