Making Community Happen

This year, I felt closer than usual to people experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, we had the wettest winter in our community since 1895.

The rain didn’t keep me from getting outside for my daily walk, but I crossed paths with far fewer of my fellow Portlanders than usual: mostly hard core runners who often had pained expressions on their faces and dog owners who couldn’t wait for their pets to do their business so they could go back inside.

Summer Free for All

That’s why Portland’s annual Summer Free for All is essential this year.

The collaboration between Portland Parks and Recreation and 71 community organizations brings free lunches, climbing walls, concerts, and movies to the parks almost every day in July and August.

Most of the year, I don’t make an effort to go hear live music, but I attend every concert at my local Fernhill Park no matter what’s on offer. This year the lineup includes:

  • Tony Starlight (Music, laughter, from Sinatra to the 80s)
  • Edna Vazquez Band (Sensational Latin alternative w/ folkloric roots)
  • Farnell Newton & The Othership Connection (Funk, soul w/ a twist)
  • Robin Jackson & The Caravan (Folk cabaret, gypsy-tinged pop)
  • Colectivo Son Jarocho de Portland (Traditional Afro-Mexican folk)

Music in other parks includes: New Orleans Jazz, reggae, West African, Somali, salsa, Mexican folk, zydeco, Beatles covers, South American cumbias, Cuban, Tongan, Native American, and symphonic.

It’s not the music, but what the music does that counts. It draws people out of their homes to come together in their parks, see friends, have family picnics, and throw frisbees. Uninhibited children and unselfconscious adults get up and dance.

Edna Vasquez Band at Fernhill Community Concert
Everybody Dance Now

If you see me dancing, something’s gone horribly wrong, but you might catch me practicing one of these

Ten Minute Well-Being Exercises

Shared Joy

We often unconsciously pick up on the vibe around us. Hanging around negative people can bring us down. Hanging around happy people, if we’re careful not to resent their being happier than we are, can lighten our mood. Everyone faces challenges. It’s beneficial to acknowledge joy, anybody’s joy, whenever the opportunity arises.

Friendly Intentions

We begin by wishing ourselves a state of well-being, the determination to achieve our potential, the resilience to cope with the normal stresses of life, the opportunity to work productively and fruitfully, and the generosity to make a contribution to our community. We extend that wish to our friends and loved ones, then to others in the community whom we may or may not know. We can shift our attention from person to person in the crowd to practice this. It doesn’t magically create a sense of well-being, but it helps weaken self-centeredness and isolation. It produces a mindset conducive to pursuing well-being.

Gratitude

Take a moment to peruse this list of events. Each one took a tremendous amount of effort by Portland Parks and Recreation, local business sponsors, volunteers from neighborhood organizations, and individual supporters to bring about. The parks themselves are the legacy of those who set aside highly valuable real estate for us to enjoy. I’m very grateful that these events come together every year.

Generosity

During intermission, volunteers circulate through the audience with watering cans and buckets to offer folks the chance to make individual contributions to their community events. It’s not required, but it’s a very simple way to feel good about giving back.

These events help change the definition of community from:

a group of people living in the same place
to
a feeling of fellowship with others

As the representative from Portland Parks and Recreation announced at the first Fernhill concert of the season, “We love to see community happen.”

Anti-Social Media and Social Comparison

The media has been selling social comparison for generations. Imagine it’s 1928 and you’re paging through the local gazette where you learn about a newly discovered medical condition.

Social Insecurity

No matter how charming you may be or how fond of you your friends are, you cannot expect them to put up with halitosis (unpleasant breath) forever. They may be nice to you–but it is an effort.

Listerine Halitosis ad from 1928
Unexcusable!

Read the Facts: 1/3 had halitosis. 68 hairdressers state that about every third woman, many of them from the wealthy classes, is halitoxic. Who should know better than they?

Recognizing these truths, nice people end any chance of offending by systematically rinsing the mouth with Listerine. Every morning. Every night. And between the times when necessary, especially before meeting others.

Social Comparison Sells

In her article “How Halitosis Became a Medical Condition With a ‘Cure’” Laura Clark writes, “Ultimately, the bad-breath campaign was so successful that marketing historians refer to it as the ‘halitosis appeal’—shorthand for using fear to sell product.”

Fear of TV

One evening I came home exhausted from my advertising job to watch the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s It. It aired during a Nielsen Ratings month so the miniseries benefited from heavy promotion. The hook for me was Tim Curry playing Pennywise, the killer clown.

Tim Curry as Pennywise
The scariest thing about Stephen King’s It was how bad it was.

I thought the show was lame. Whatever I imagined it would be, it turned out not to be. It wasn’t holding my attention, so I flipped the remote during the commercials hoping to find something better. As bad as It was, the shows on the other channels were worse.

I had no expectation that I was about to witness a moment of television that I would never forget.

I returned from one unsuccessful channel surfing commercial break to find Pennywise had morphed into a giant unterrifying sewer spider, and one of our lackluster heroes took aim at It with a makeshift slingshot. This was a moment of TV so bad I swore at the set and pulled the cord out of the wall. Enough!

Unplugging Social Comparison

The unintended consequences of my separation from commercial television surprised me.

I thought that I watched TV to relax, but I felt more relaxed without it. My paycheck hadn’t grown, but without constant reminders of things I couldn’t afford, I suddenly had enough money.

I worried that I might miss out on the next big whatever, but my co-workers kept plugged in, I heard it through the grapevine, without the commercials.

Social Media and Social Comparison

I felt a similar reduction of social insecurity and increased well-being when I pulled way back from social media.

“More and more studies suggest that electronic communication—unlike the face-to-face interaction it may replace—has negative consequences for mental health,” writes Jean Twenge in her Newsweek article about the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. “One study asked college students to report on their mood five times a day. The more they had used Facebook, the less happy they were. However, feeling unhappy didn’t lead to more Facebook use, which suggests that Facebook was causing unhappiness, not vice versa.”

Curating Your Life

As a recovering advertiser, I sometimes find it hard to resist Amazon’s share your purchase feature, which allows you to dazzle your friends by posting what you just bought. My most recent purchase was replacement bungee lacing to repair my zero gravity chair. Exciting, right?

Regular participation in social media requires a mindset of judging post-worthy events. Real-life friends may grow tedious in our eyes if they post things that irritate or bore us. We may grow self-conscious about our appearance sifting through photo after photo trying to find the one in which we look best. If we post about something that’s important to us and it doesn’t get enough likes or favorable comments, it might make us wonder about our friendships. And it’s hard to be fully present even in life’s happiest moments if we have to stop, snap a photo, and upload.

The only real winner here is the social media platform, which uses your relationships to turn your friendships into uncompensated sales pitches.

Take the Ten Minute Test

The next time you’re plugged in to media, social or otherwise, take ten minutes to consider whether the program you’re watching or posts the posts you’re reading make you feel more or less content with your quality of life. Ask whether they increase or diminish your satisfaction with the world around you.