Physical Well-Being and Relationships

Updated: Feb 15

We’re into a thing called “well-being” here at the Hopeful Neighborhood Project. Well-being is simply a positive state of being in which individuals and groups thrive and flourish.

But, in a sense, the well-being of a neighborhood is complex. We identify twelve distinct neighborhood health indicators that affect neighborhood well-being: the physical, emotional, and intellectual health of people; the social, cultural, and vocational health of relationships; the natural, infrastructural, and residential health of the environment; and the political, economic, and associational health of our systems. The well-being of a neighborhood is actually fairly complex. But as people who are committed to promoting well-being, we are amazed at how fruitful and helpful everyday relationships are. Healthy relationships are like a tonic to many areas of a neighborhood’s well-being:

  • It is within the context of trusting relationships that gifts can be named and exchanged.

  • Helpful associations can only come together where people know each other and are willing to join forces.

  • Relationships are a key component of social and cultural health.

In pursuing the common good there is no silver bullet, of course. But healthy relationships sure come close. Consider the direct and verifiable connection there is, for example, between relationships and physical health. John McKnight and Peter Block illustrate the connection in The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods: “Local social relationships are major health sources. A nine-year study in California found that people with the fewest social ties had the highest risk of dying from heart disease, circulatory problems, and cancer. Robert Putnam reports, in Bowling Alone, that if you belong to no local groups and then join just one, you cut your risk of dying the next year in half!”

How profound to realize that having more social ties (more relationships) can actually affect how long we live. And how long our neighbors live.

It is not uncommon to enter into the project of developing relationships for self-interested reasons: we don’t want to be lonely, we enjoy having friends, we find people to be fascinating, etc. Apparently, we can add another self-interested reason: our desire to live long, healthy lives.

There are always barriers to our unfettered engagement in the project of developing relationships. Meeting people can be scary and awkward and revealing; deepening existing relationships can be messy and slow and vulnerable. But did you know it is good for your health? Meeting a new neighbor every month can be part of your health regimen! Calling up a friend for no reason at all can extend your life!

And then, think of your neighbors. We all want to be neighborly in some fashion; we want to be a helpful neighbor. Often this can look like waving and saying hi, loaning and borrowing tools, or helping shovel snow and rake leaves. But it turns out you can benefit your neighbor’s physical health by being in a relationship with them. And maybe introducing them to another neighbor or two.

It can be complicated and maybe a bit overwhelming to think of neighborhood well-being in its manifold complexity. (Twelve health indicators are a lot to keep track of!) But to keep things simple, you can just major in healthy relationships. Meet new people. Deepen friendships. Introduce people to each other.

It sounds simple, but it could literally save lives.

(Excerpt for this blog from The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods by John McKnight and Peter Block, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2010.)

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