Friday, May 21, 2010

Effort to cultivate good relationships has rich rewards.

For seven years, I’ve been meeting once a month with the same group of women. We share a meal, play a game, and catch up on what’s been happening in our lives. It’s a diverse group of women of varying ages and economic means. Some have grown grandchildren, and some, like me, are raising young families. Some are retired, and others are still building careers. What we all have in common, though, is a desire to carve out time for this community of friends. Even when I have to juggle childcare and handle the duties of hosting the group myself, I always end up feeling rejuvenated by the end of the evening.
Scientists in the field of positive psychology are digging up hard data that confirms a being part of community is an important element in finding happiness. One study concluded that being part of a group of friends that meets once a month has the same psychological effect as doubling your income.

It’s hard to imagine exactly how I’d feel if I doubled my income. But I do know that meeting with this group of women makes me happy. According to University of California psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, 40 percent of our happiness is a result of making intentional choices, like choosing to be part of a community such as the one I describe. On the other hand, just 10 percent of happiness is connected to life circumstances, says Lyubomirsky.

Happiness isn’t the only benefit of community, however. Being an active part of a community has practical rewards. I recently had the pleasure of connecting with a fellow gardener I’d never met before. I spent a lovely afternoon learning about new plant varieties and seeing how to create a beautiful, low-maintenance garden design. I gained practical knowledge, a new friend, and eight boxes of transplants that would have cost me hundreds of dollars at a nursery. I happily spent an evening planting all my newfound greenery, and my beds will fill in with a wealth of new young trees, shrubs and flowers.

Community not only makes our gardens more beautiful, but can make our lives easier, too. For example, in our development, we have a neighbor who has been plowing our driveway for the last several years. He’s also used his auger to drill holes for a fence we made from reclaimed cedar that we got from another neighbor. Fortunately for me, both of these neighbors have an extraordinary fondness for homemade banana bread. I bake for them in exchange for the assistance and materials they give us. The relationships we’ve developed have been a tremendous help to us – and saved us money - in many circumstances.

Building relationships takes effort, particularly in a culture where we rely on one-line updates and text messages to communicate with one another. But taking the time to be part of a community, to invest in one another, makes good sense. It requires making choices about how and with whom you spend your time, but the effort to cultivate good relationships has rich rewards. Money is essential for paying the bills, but it can’t buy the emotional support, sense of camaraderie and practical, budget-stretching help of a close friend or good neighbor.

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