Here are some of the things that have happened to my family over the last few weeks.
One of our neighbors watched all three of our children for several hours for free so that Sarah and I could work on a backyard project together and have a nice quiet dinner together.
Another neighbor loaned us some gardening equipment. Another friend gave us some seeds for our garden.
In one evening, four different people that live near us stopped to talk to me as I worked in the front yard. One of them invited me to a non-religious event hosted by his church. Another swapped some recipes with us. Another friend gave us a few coupons that were particularly useful to us.
Another friend of mine passed along a job offer.
These are just the interactions I could recall over the last week or two since the weather became nice enough to spend time outside.
All of these things came about because I put effort into getting to know my neighbors and make friends in the community. That effort takes time more than anything else, but over the long run it rewards me in countless ways.
Sometimes, that reward is purely social. At other times, it rewards me in a financial sense or in a time-saving sense. In either case, those relationships add consistent value to my life.
A side note: my belief is that online interaction hinders this kind of relationship building. Cell phones and the internet make it easier to just reinforce the close friends you already have and often doesn’t lead to face-to-face interactions and relationship building with new people.
So, how do you build these kinds of relationships?
The easiest first step is to meet your neighbors. Talk to them when you see them outside their home. When you see that they need help with something, offer to help. If someone new moves in, knock on their door and introduce yourself, ideally with a small housewarming gift.
Some people won’t interact with you and will avoid you. You can’t really help that. However, most people will interact with you in a positive way and you can build on that. Invite your neighbors over once in a while for a meal or for a drink. Look for things you have in common with them and build on them.
The other useful method is to get involved in community activities. What kinds of things are going on in your town? What kinds of community organizations exist? This takes some research, but it’s often worth it. Go to the library and to city hall to look for activity lists, group lists, and community calendars. Go to things that seem interesting. Talk to people when you’re there.
Eventually, you’ll begin to see the same people at events and, over time, you’ll get to know them. As with your neighbors, help them out when you can. Congratulate them on their successes. If you see something that would be useful for them, grab it and give it to them later (things like coupons and so on).
If you do this for other people, they’ll begin to do the same for you. Over time, you’ll build up a great collection of friends and neighbors who constantly come through for you when you need it.
You can often help others by just spending a bit of time and energy, but when they help you in return, it can often save you far more energy and time and money. The help you give almost always costs you less than the value of the help and friendship you’ll eventually receive.