Happiness through Neighboring

iGnite - The purpose of lifePoint to Ponder:
What aspect of your life brings you the most happiness?

by Neissa Brown Springmann

by Neissa Brown Springmann

Currently I am reading a very interesting book called The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. It’s an easy read and pretty common sense, but I’m completely hooked and fascinated. Based on the title you’ve probably figured out that the book is about how to be a good neighbor, but more important is the why — why it is critical to our society that we be good neighbors.

In the first chapter, a group of ministers in the Denver, Colorado area met with their city mayor to learn how they could help serve the city. The mayor responded: “The majority of the issues our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.” He then added, “Government programs aren’t always the most effective way to address social issues. Relationships are more important than programs because they are organic and ongoing. The idea is that when neighbors are in relationship with one another, the elderly shut-in gets cared for by the person next door, the at-risk kid gets mentored by a dad who lives on the block, and so on.”

Honestly, I haven’t made it past the first chapter because I am continuing to contemplate just that paragraph. Of course the mayor is right. In theory it sounds so simple, but it appears that societally we are way off.

Ironically, while reading The Art of Neighboring, I came upon an interesting article in SUCCESS Magazine by Patty Onderko called Oh, Happy Day. The article states that research has found that happy people are healthier, live longer, give back more to their communities, cultivate stronger family and social ties and even make more money. The article also lists these ten evidence-based ways to be happy (by actionforhappiness.org):

  1. Giving: Do things for others
  2. Relating: Connecting with people
  3. Exercising: Take care of your body
  4. Appreciating: Notice the world around you
  5. Trying Out: Keep learning new things
  6. Direction: Have a goal to look forward to
  7. Resilience: Find ways to bounce back
  8. Emotion: Take a positive approach
  9. Acceptance: Be comfortable with who you are
  10. Meaning: Be part of something bigger

After reading this article I began thinking about the time in my life when food and exercise consumed all of my thoughts. I was constantly calculating fat and calories, thinking about my next meal and never allowed myself the pleasure of a splurge — at least without a five to ten mile run to follow. I was obsessed with the scale and a one to three pound weight increase would sabotage my day. It was also during a time when I was younger, worked in a gym and was surrounded by mirrors. It’s interesting because looking back I can see that the harder I worked out and the more restrictive my diet was, the more my body literally fought back. I was out of balance, my priorities were out of line, my focus was too inward and therefore my body (and I) was not happy. It wasn’t until I had a literal mental and spiritual shift, got outside of myself, and realized that life was much bigger and more meaningful than a number on a scale or the size of my clothes, that my whole body became happy. Ironically, I stopped exercising as much, I didn’t eat “perfectly,” and I rested more, yet my body felt better and performed better — all the while the size of my clothes stayed the same. I’ve since ditched the scale.

You may be wondering, “Neissa, what in the world do neighboring, being happy, and diet and exercise have to do with one another?” The answer is everything. Happiness cannot be achieved from being primarily inward-focused. For sure it’s easier and feels safer to be focused on ourselves, our families and our homogeneous circles, but true happiness comes from living for and in the things that are bigger than ourselves. Could it be possible that there’s a real connection between our society being the most wealthy it’s ever been, while simultaneously unhappiness and neighborly love are on the decline?

For me, there was a time when my idol was my body. Other idols that can prevent us from living outwardly and being neighborly are our children, family, work, social circles, wealth, television, social media — anything that causes us to live inward and be “me-focused.” As the wonderful quote above suggests, the ultimate goal is to be useful, honorable and compassionate, a.k.a. being a good neighbor, which in my opinion produces ultimate happiness!

Action Item:
Do something for a neighbor who you have never met or interacted with before. This could be baking cookies, writing a note, knocking on their door to say hello — anything!

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