We spend a lot of time talking about green here on Get Rich Slowly. But let's direct our attention for a couple minutes to another color: blue.
I first read about the Blue Zones in a magazine a few years ago. These blue zones were identified after researching some of the longest living people on the planet. Although nine characteristics were associated with these blue zones, several are lumped into the social category. Having a healthy social life can extend your life? Who knew?
Maybe you don't care about living until you are 100, but do you think that your social network could help improve your finances or decrease your stress level? I think it can. And so does the Blue Zones organization, but more on that later.
The impact of community
This isn't the first time I have written about my community and how it has impacted my life. From supporting me and my family through the death of my father, our journey through cancer, foster care, adoption, and some other health concerns, we've had people. And they've had our backs. What they have done for my life is truly priceless.
I wish everyone had access to the kind of community I have. Life can be hard and lonely at times. Building a community, though, may be the silver lining when dark clouds overtake you.
I am the first to admit that I didn't have to build my own community. At least, not the foundation. Since I have lived most of my life in rural communities, everyone knows almost everyone else. Almost everyone is connected.
For instance, my massage therapist's mother was my mom's Physical Education teacher. And now the teacher resides in the nursing home where my mom works. That's just one example.
How to build community
But how do you build community if you moved into a town where you are the first-generation resident (and not the fifth generation)? Basically, you need to meet people. Better yet, find people with whom you share something in common. How do you find them? Here are a few ideas….
- Volunteer: One of my friends, who moved many miles away from family and friends, has struggled to connect with people. She applied to be a volunteer at a farm that works with kids from hard places. If you also love animals, check into walking dogs at your local animal shelter. Not an animal person? Maybe becoming a volunteer at the local hospital or nursing home is more your cup of tea. If your children are in school, ask their teacher how you can get involved.
- Exchange food: My sister is involved in a soup swap. Everyone makes a big pot of soup and packages it up. They get together and swap with other families. If you don't have a lot of time, make a double recipe of your dinner one time. Swap with another person who did the same.
- Events: Once you have developed some relationships, try throwing an event. Recently, two of my sisters and I established a freezer meal club. We each invited others to join us. Every other month, we spend about four hours putting together 90 meals. We each go home with 10 meals each, but I have more than a full freezer when I am done. My heart is full from having adult conversation with old and new friends. If you don't have the freezer space, how about hosting a neighborhood cookout?
- Join something: Find a church, a book club, join a MOPS group, or some sports activity. Again, find people with whom you have something in common, whether it is young children or a mutual love of tennis.
- Help others: As William Cowie mentioned in one of his recent posts, he scoops his neighbors' sidewalks after snow falls. While William isn't my neighbor (too bad for me!), our neighbors plow our huge driveway for us. That builds community for sure! Offer to rake leaves, pick up something from a store, or help with other outside work. (Incidentally, helping others was one of the attributes found in the Blue Zones.)
- Show hospitality: We frequently have guests over, some we know well and some we don't know as well. Everyone brings a dish to serve, and we enjoy (er, well, most of the time — it's not always successful!) each other's company.
How building community works in real life
When I started writing this article, I was thinking that maybe these tips could impact the life of an individual reader here and there. And then I remembered about the Blue Zones and did some additional research to refresh my memory. I hope you are as excited as I am about the financial implications of what I discovered.
As it turns out, the principles behind the Blue Zones are applied to Blue Zone projects, which is trying to help American communities get healthy. The first Blue Zone project community was Albert Lea, Minnesota. Because not all residents had Internet access, supporters were sometimes recruited by door-to-door contact. (That's building community and relationships right there!)
According to the Blue Zones website, Albert Lea rented 46 new community gardens. The residents logged 75 million steps and dropped a collective 12,000 pounds. Most telling, in my opinion, was the city workers' healthcare claims dropping by 49 percent. Other businesses who participated saw a drop in absenteeism — by 21 percent!
When the project hit California, similar results were seen. Smoking rates and obesity rates dropped. More people parked their cars in favor of biking and walking.
These communities united their residents with a common goal of becoming healthier. Did it open communication? inspire people to stick to their goals? decrease stress? enhance relationships? How about saving money by not smoking or decreasing transportation costs?
Maybe the link between building community and building your savings account is stronger than I first suspected.
Perhaps you'd like to participate in a quick survey about your community experiences and how having community helps your finances. Click to start the survey , and thank you. We hope to design more articles based on the survey's results!
How do you think building community affects your health, financial and otherwise? Have you tried to build community and, if so, how?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).