The term ‘community’ meant little to me until about 5 years ago. While studying to be a teacher, I routinely heard my instructors state the importance of positive classroom and whole school communities. It seemed such an obvious thing to say…of course schools and classrooms should be positive places. It wasn’t until recently that I started to fully understand how a sense of community, in schools, homes, cities, and places of employment, helps to promote happiness and good mental health. I have journalist and author Sebastian Junger to thank for making clear to me this link between happiness and community.
I first heard him speak on the Joe Rogan Experience about his book Tribe, which highlights the social bond that soldiers feel during active duty. It surprised me to hear Sebastian state that not only do troops report feeling happy while working and fighting alongside one another, but they also often experience unhappiness upon returning home and facing life without the strong bonds to which they’ve become accustomed. This podcast opened my eyes to how important a reliable network of support is for one’s mental health. Here is Sebastian on the podcast discussing the many ways that human beings can benefit from relying on and helping one another:
As anyone who listened to that interview probably did, I started to really consider the presence of community in my life. What I realized was that, without noticing how lucky I am, I have been benefiting from meaningful, loving connections for most of my life. Growing up with a pretty tight knit family, I most definitely took for granted the love and support with which I was surrounded. These days, I make an effort to pause during and after family time to soak in the love and allow myself to experience gratitude for it.
When I reflect on my professional life, I realize that my students and colleagues are also a supportive network for which I need to be thankful. The teachers college instructors were right to stress the importance and benefits of community; as much as teaching small children is often emotionally and physically draining, it allows me the opportunity to both give and receive love and respect to beautiful little people on a daily basis. My students and I work together, sharing and exploring ideas with one another. They are helping me learn and problem solve just as much as I am helping them, and this meaningful connection is something I truly appreciate.
Check out the Ted Talk below that outlines an ongoing 75 year study related to happiness and longevity. Secure, positive relationships are beneficial to both our mental and physical health, and here is some science that proves it!