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Finding joy with neighbors
On real life community
Two years ago, when I moved back to New York City, I found myself talking to my neighbors, knowing their names, and building relationships with them.
I don’t know if it was the post-pandemic interaction itch, moving back to NYC, or having a dog, but for the first time in my adult life, I found myself growing friendly with my neighbors, and I can’t help but attribute this newfound joy of being close to my neighbors to living less online and more offline. I don’t think I muttered more than a “hello” to neighbors when I was chronically online, my world too full and mind too clouded for me to invite anything new in.
I grew up in a town where the neighbors looked out for each other. Our families fed the dogs when someone was away, watched each other’s kids, and cooked dinner when someone got sick. When my mother went into labor with me, my parents left my two-year-old sister with our next-door neighbor until I was born and it was safe for my sister to come to the hospital to meet me.
We always had an extra set of our neighbors’ house keys for emergencies. My mom always made an effort to introduce herself and bring over a small gift when someone new moved into the neighborhood. I saw the benefits of these kind gestures firsthand.
As our nation enters epidemic levels of loneliness (which, by the way, was still at record-level highs before the pandemic), small interactions can make big impacts. Countless articles tell you to “talk to your barista”, which I never found to be as impactful as those articles stated it would be. Plus, I make all my coffee at home. But talking to my neighbors has become a foundational pillar of my daily life. I notice that on days that I feel less lonely, a part of a community, happier, and more connected, those are the days that I’ve had interactions with my neighbors.
Not only are these interactions helping me feel more connected and at home in Brooklyn, but talking to my neighbors has improved my intergenerational connectedness. Often, I’m talking to people 20-30 years older than me. Many of these folks have lived in my neighborhood in Brooklyn for 30+ years. I enjoy hearing stories of how the neighborhood has changed, or what it was like 40 years ago.
One of my neighbors and I help take care of each other’s dogs, and that has been a godsend. Life feels easier when I talk to my neighbors. Apparently, there are also studies on how neighbors talking and being outside can reduce crime.
And I couldn’t write a post on the loveliness and importance of neighbors without thanking this guy, my dog.
Having a dog is a great icebreaker. Plus, it requires you to be outside 3 or 4 times a day. No excuses to isolate when your pup is staring at you, desperate to empty his bladder.
What I’m realizing is that it doesn’t always have to be your BFF that you’re conversing with to make you feel less lonely. The person doesn’t even have to be in the same age group as you or fit into some other demographic. If you live in the same area, you likely have a few things in common. My neighborly interactions are some of the best parts of my day. Won’t you let your neighbor become the best part of yours?