water-battle-636761_1280If you’ve been reading this series you know that one of my favorite movie lines comes from the George Clooney movie, Up in the Air. Towards the end of the film he’s trying to convince his sister’s fiancé, who has gotten cold feet, to get back to the altar. Clooney reminds him that in anything he’s done in life has always better when someone was with him to share it with. So as we near the final blog in this series, it’s appropriate that Tom Rath, author of Wellbeing, reinforces what a screenwriter wrote just a few years ago.

Life’s better with company.

Not only is life better with company it can be the difference between a good life and a great one (Rath 93). There are a couple of components to Community Wellbeing, the fifth in the factors that determine individual wellbeing in life. The first factor is your physical environment and the second are your connections to your community. It turns out where you live and who lives around you has a significant impact on your (and your family’s) wellbeing.

Are you drinking fresh water? Are you eating food that’s not contaminated (let’s assume you’re not on a cruise ship)? Are you breathing relatively clean, radioactive and chemical free air? Are you worried about a home invasion, burglary or being assaulted walking around your neighborhood at night? If you’re not really worried about these things, you should be grateful, because in much of the world people report they don’t have this security, they don’t have fresh water or parasite-free food, or even good air to breathe (Rath 93). When these needs aren’t met, it’s difficult to have thriving wellbeing (Rath 94).

There goes the neighborhood!

Security speaks directly to one of our most primal needs. Maslow even said it. Without security, we have trouble meeting any of our other needs. Security in our context here also means safety. While I’m not a full blown “prepper,” (far from it in fact), I do enjoy watching the prepper shows from time to time – if anything just to see how they build those shelters, some of which are larger than my first home. While we feel relatively safe in our neighborhood that safety and security was threatened just over a year ago when 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and then murdered just a few miles from our home. I grew up in the town I currently live in and that sort of thing just didn’t happen. We realized that those “Stranger-Danger” videos were really important (actually I recommend Safe Side Superchick by the lady that did the Baby Einstein videos, Julie Aigner Clark and America’s Most Wanted John Clark — they have an Internet safety video too).

What protections or preparations have you made regarding natural disasters? Last year, floods destroyed thousands of homes and businesses and created billions in property damage — and that was after yet another wildfire summer. When that happens you have to think prepper just a little bit.

When the power went off during a snow storm the other day my youngest son immediately wanted to call the cops! Well, now we know what he thinks the police are for. It then dawned on my wife and I that our youngest two kids have never experienced a power outage before – it just doesn’t happen that often, whereas when she and I were growing up it was a regular occurrence.

Everyone’s civil until the power goes out.

All families should strive to live in a safe neighborhood and to provide some basic protections against predators, no matter how many legs they walk on. If you live in the mountains, don’t complain about the bears – you’re in their ‘hood now so learn to deal with it. Kids should know how to watch for signs of danger and what actions to take. Adults should take responsibility for knowing their surroundings and for knowing some basic self-defense techniques, at least enough to break away and run or call for help.

Get a survival pouch – one bag that contains a mess tin (for cooking), fuel (hexamine fuel tablets) torch, flares, marker panel, matches, brew kit (tea and coffee are great morale boosters and if an asteroid hits the Earth it’s going to be a few hours before there’s a Starbucks up and running), food, survival bags and survival log. (This list recommended by John “Lofty” Wiseman in his book SAS: Survival Handbook for any Climate in any Situation). You’ll also need a knife. Your basic needs are food, fire, shelter and water – think along those lines when you’re doing some shopping for your emergency supplies. You should have enough materials on hand to get through 3-4 days without power or outside services. Get a good first aid kit (with more bandages than you think you’ll need) and extra supplies of the medicines you normally take.

Living in the right place is just one part of community wellbeing but that alone is unlikely to create thriving wellbeing. You’ve got to get involved in community groups or organizations (Rath 95). We are tribal creatures by nature because when we’re with our tribe, we feel safe and protected. Remember, back in Grog’s caveman days, or Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet days, banishment (or bani’shed as Romeo calls in the Bard’s voice) meant the same as death. Leaving the protection of the tribe meant you were cut off from the pack and thus susceptible to attack from predators. Our brains haven’t forgotten what being voted off the island really means!

Donating money is one way to increase your community wellbeing, but giving your time is even more joyful. Time is the one commodity that we all get in equal amounts so when we help people we often get a “helper’s high.” We feel stronger, more energetic and more motivated after helping people, even in small ways (Rath 97). For years I’ve donated blood platelets to Children’s Hospital and I always feel an incredible sense of contribution afterwards (plus the cafeteria makes special chocolate chip cookies for the volunteers and I truly believe that God zero’s-out the calories because of the good deed, right?!)

When we do things for others we see how this made a difference and it gives us confidence in our own ability to create change (Rath 97).

Alcoholics anonymous (and Slimgenics, my selected weight management program) both understand the power of community. AA leverages relationships through having a sponsor and with daily meetings to help people stay sober – creating sustainable change is 2 to 3 times more likely to happen in a group than it is individually (Rath 102).

Frankly, I wish I knew my neighbors better than I do. We live in a friendly neighborhood where we all at least know each other’s names (for the most part), and we help each other out when we can. But I also know that times have changed a bit. Growing up it wasn’t anything for folks to just “drop by.” Today if someone did that without calling first, they may have just crashed into 20 plans the family had already committed to that night (homework, kids activities, playdates, parents often working from home even after they’re “off” work, favorite TV shows and so forth). While many people lament that Facebook friends aren’t really friends, the research has shown that social media is another way to feel connected, so if that’s all ya got, spend some time checking out who is liking who these days.

Oddly enough, even though we’re all very busy, to this day I get a little emotional lift when I stop and actually talk to my neighbors, or other people at our church. I guess Clooney is right – life’s better with company.

Rath, Tom, and James K. Harter. Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. New York: Gallup, 2010. Print.

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