Most of us have experienced the subtle-but-undeniable good of hanging out in a casual environment with others. Whether at a coffeeshop, tavern, or bookstore, there is something unique about a place where informal conversation blossoms naturally. These are what sociologists call “third places”—not your home or your workplace, but a third place where people in a geographic area expect to run into their neighbors. An environment that is friendly, unhurried, and without agenda or explicit purpose.
As Ray Oldenburg described it in his seminal work on this subject (The Great Good Place), when locals have a third place to spend “pleasurable hours with one another for no specific or obvious purpose,” there really is purpose. Oldenburg argues that every great society has these “great, good places” where people can meet, deepen friendships, and be in unhurried conversation.
Oldenburg’s research revealed that having a casual environment to spend time with those you live near strengthens the ability to care for each other: