I didn’t acknowledge my loneliness after we moved to Knoxville. Even to myself. Part of me felt like I didn’t have the right to feel sad about my situation. I had my husband and kids around, and I felt happy when I was with them. Shouldn’t that be enough? I didn’t put a name on my feelings back then, but my loneliness was profound. I needed to find other ways to feel connected to the outside world. After so many moves, I found several ways to help me feel connected to a larger community. If you’re feeling anything like I did during my time in Knoxville, I hope these tips will help you out.
Leave your home and get outside
You won’t meet people inside your apartment, and it’s hard to make friends if you spend your day driving from one parking lot to another. Instead, leave your home and go for a walk after dinner. Sit at a coffee shop with a good book. Visit a local garden and smell the flowers (yes, for real).
You’ll get a double boost of happiness when you leave the safety of your home. First, nature makes us happier. Second, that casual interaction with a stranger – a smile, a “hello” – brings us joy as well. Research shows that these chance encounters can make us feel connected, sometimes even more so than our connection to family. Because, you know, family.
Volunteer to feel connected
We all want to feel like we’re part of something bigger. That’s why I love to volunteer. For those few hours, I get to help someone in the community or on the other side of the world. While you’re volunteering, you sense how each small gesture makes a difference. Plus, you feel connected to everyone around you who is working towards a common goal.
Volunteering can also lead to more community connections. I once attended a family community service event hosted by a Chicago organization called The Kindness Connection. Within a few months I became an active board member. I felt lucky to be able to spend time with a group of brilliant, compassionate women on a regular basis and to help the community at the same time. Volunteering, in my opinion, is the best way to feel connected because everyone is feeling good while they’re doing it.
Explore a hobby in a group setting
The best time to start something new is after a move. It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert, there’s an activity for everyone. I joined a knitting class where I could sit quietly and stitch while the other women chatted. Even though I didn’t know anyone, it felt cozy to be around other people on Tuesday evenings. You might prefer a stand-up comedy class at your local theater or a writing group at the library. When you join a group, it makes you feel connected to people outside of work or your family.
Start your own group in the community
Instead of relying on what’s already out there, start your own group based on your interests. Maybe you love photography or bird watching or speaking French. To get others to join you, start a club that meets on a regular basis. If you don’t know many people in town, you can post your group on Meetup.com, a neighborhood Facebook group, or go old school and hang up posters. If you know a few people, you could create a book club or a movie club and ask each person to invite a friend or two.
Use social media to feel connected
I know there’s a lot of discussion about social media making us feel disconnected or alienated. However, there are upsides, too. My preferred platform is Instagram where you can find friends based on interests. If you’re a foodie or a runner or a reader, you will find your people on Instagram. You can take photos of your favorite books and start bonding with other bookstagrammers. If you prefer 80’s TV shows or skyscraper photography, there’s a group for you. It’s true that scrolling through your feed will not compare to sitting face to face with a friend, but it can help us feel like we are part of a community – even if that community is spread out across the world.
I’d love to hear from you. How did you create a connection to your new place?