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Who is in your neighbourhood?

Who is in your neighbourhood?

The disconnectedness of the times we live in has caused many shifts in perspective, and for us, one of the most profound is the importance of our neighbours. This is why in 2022, we’re starting to think of how our good intentions might cultivate more health and happiness for ourselves and the people that surround us – our neighbours.

Loneliness

In our ever-growing global world where we’re constantly connected, we’re also increasingly disconnected. Even before lockdowns kept us physically apart, Swinburne University’s Australian Loneliness Report of 2018 showed that over half of Australians felt a lack of companionship. It also found that 50% of people felt lonely once a week and 30% felt lonely for three or more days per week.

It’s easy to think of loneliness as an affliction reserved for the single and broken-hearted, but it’s so much more complicated than that. A report on the effect of COVID-19 on social isolation and loneliness found that it can affect people living alone, with a partner, with families, with kids, men, women, young and old both in and out of lockdown restrictions. The effects of loneliness and social isolation mentioned in both reports range from social anxiety, inflammation, sleep deprivation, depression, decreased wellbeing and increased mortality. It’s clearly significant and now more than ever emphasises the importance of fostering meaningful connections.

Building a Neighbourly Bond

It might seem surprising that so many of us feel lonely despite having a wide web of people within our digital reach. Staying connected digitally during strict lockdowns was a blessing, but it also gave us a practical lesson in the difference between real-life social and online interactions. There’s something grounding and human about tangible physical connection, so it makes sense that we turn our attention to the connections we’re likely to have regularly because of proximity. That is our neighbourly bonds.

According to the Australian Loneliness Report, less than half of us feel like we have neighbours that we can call on for help. And if you think about the restrictions we’ve lived through, feeling alone in and around your home is a scarier thought.

The good news is that it only takes a connection to six neighbours to reduce loneliness and feelings of anxiety. This was reported in a 2020 study conducted by loneliness experts from around the world with the neighbourhood-based online platform Nextdoor. The report also studied the results of a 4-week ‘kindness challenge’ where participants were encouraged to perform small acts of kindness for their neighbours. This could be providing emotional support by listening to a problem, running an errand, providing helpful information or community volunteering. By the end of the challenge, the number of participants that felt lonely decreased from 1 in 10 to 1 in 20.

Small Focus, Big Impact

If doing the altruistic act can be beneficial to your health, imagine the impact you could have on someone that really needs it. Which begs the question… who around us might really need it? Even stopping to think about the people in your neighbourhood and their circumstances is an important small step. You’re widening your awareness to people that might be vulnerable in your own community. It could be a single parent, new parents, an elderly person living alone, a homeless person, the owner of your local café that was closed for months, the person that works from home alone all day every day – these people could all need support in different ways and it may not be as obvious.

So start small. Look up and around, say hello or offer up a smile. It’s so easy to get swept up in huge issues that are happening around the world, but we shouldn’t forget the immediate and potentially profound impact we can have on our neighbours.

It could be something as small as bringing in your neighbour’s bins, helping an elderly neighbour carry their shopping, asking your barista for their name or simply offering a smile and introducing yourself. Doing one good thing can turn what often feels like a big bad world into a warm and welcoming one where everyone matters. If we can all make it our mission to help a neighbour feel seen, the positive effects might ripple through our streets, communities, countries and maybe even the world.

It might seem some days that there isn’t much we can control, though if we all tried just a little bit to care for what and who we can – our neighbours around us be them human, winged, four-legged or flowering – we think the world might be a better place. So as we settle in for the year ahead, we’re challenging ourselves and our community to do just one good thing a month, starting with our neighbours. 

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