A few weeks ago, I came across a TikTok video from @katherout, aka Katherine Berry, discussing the number of articles she’s seen recently (including The Atlantic, Substack) urging readers to live closer to their friends. With each new article, she became more convinced she should do the same.
“If that were my life, it would be so dreamy because I think loneliness is one of the main forces that drags us down. Especially if you live alone, having that social support down the block would be immensely transformative,” Berry tells her 196,200 followers.
As a young child growing up in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia, I often spent my afternoons running down the street to join a game of kickball in the cul-de-sac or knocking on a neighbor’s door with my arms full of dolls. It was a time of unbridled joy, where it didn’t take more than a few footsteps to show up unannounced at my best friend’s house.
Yet as I’ve gotten older, my friends have drifted away. Now, instead of doors apart, we’re separated by counties, cities and states. The ease of access has been replaced by once-a-year trips across the country, unanswered text messages and constantly rescheduled video calls.
In The Atlantic, Adrienne Matei writes that her longing for closeness stemmed from the pandemic lockdown, where long walks around Vancouver didn’t bring her any closer to friends. The lack of physical communication and interaction and the positivity it brings was disconcerting.
Matei points out that the nuclear family has been the default for a century; that college campuses are walkable communities; and queer “chosen” families are a modern way of creating close-knit support. Plus, a study by Harvard Medical School and the University of California San Diego showed that when “an individual becomes happy, a friend living within a mile experiences a 25 percent increased chance of becoming happy,” reports The Harvard Gazette.
On Substack, journalist Anne Helen Petersen, author of the newsletter “Culture Study,” ponders what keeps us from employing this happiness-building strategy. Cross-country moves for job offers, high housing prices, unsafe conditions (abortion and gay rights), and job lock prevent people from controlling where they live, she says. But one of the biggest stumbling blocks to living near friends, she concludes, is that culturally, we aren’t supposed to prioritize friendship over careers, romantic partners and parenting.
“No one (not you, not your friends, and especially not dudes) is encouraged past, oh, age 21 to put in the work to sustain this sort of friendship,” Petersen writes.
It’s worth noting that friendships — so helpful for our personal lives — can benefit our professional lives, too. It’s not a stretch to say that people who are positive and emotionally stable outside of work are more likely to bring that energy to the office, and to have a sense of balance that can offset job stress.
I still live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, but I don’t run down the street to play dolls or kickball with my friends anymore. I do have friends, though. And what reading these stories has taught me is that I can ping them with funny memes more often or host impromptu wine and cheese nights to introduce them to my neighborhood to make these relationships stronger. I even started a crafts club to help my old friends and newcomers cross-pollinate.
If you’re already doing things like this, then here’s something else to try. Chat randomly with new people in your daily orbit — from the clerk at the bookstore to the barista at the coffee shop to the neighbors and their children (or dogs) you encounter on daily walks. Why? It turns out it’s good for you, according to Gillian Sandstrom, a psychologist at the University of Sussex in England. “Such seemingly trivial interactions have been shown to boost people’s positive moods and reduce their odds of depressed moods,” Sandstrom, told The New York Times.
Moral of the story? Move closer to your friends, or make friends with those around you. Become a regular at a cafe. Give your mechanic a thank-you gift. Ask the woman you traded messages with on Nextdoor over to come over for a cup of tea. Find ways for your digital communications to be more meaningful and considerate. Succulents don’t need as much tending as more intensive bloomers in your garden of happiness, but they still need a little cultivation.
Amanda Nurse is an operations and editorial coordinator at Alphy and Reflect
Reflect by Alphy®, our AI-powered coach, helps you and your team communicate in a more productive way. Reflect analyzes communication from all angles — ageism, sexism, racism, confidence, sentiment, apologies, and more — to make you aware of your words, tone, and speech across all your devices, from desktop to mobile.