When you reminisce on your childhood, you may recall regularly being surrounded by your cousins and extended family, or playing with the neighbouring kids while the adults chatted on front lawns.
These days, some of us are lucky to see our extended family members once a year, and we may never even meet our neighbours.
It seems we’re losing the sense of community we remember from years past and becoming more siloed and separate from the people around us.
Research shows the number of close friends that Australians have has approximately halved since the mid-1980s, as has the number of neighbours who we know well enough to drop in on uninvited.
Relationships Australia’s Relationship Indicators 2022 survey revealed we’re lonelier than ever, showing almost a quarter (23.9%) of Australians are lonely.
All humans have a basic need for social connection and to feel a sense of belonging in a community. And when this need isn’t met, our mental and physical health can suffer.
So why are we becoming more disconnected from friends and family? And how can we strengthen our connections and revive our sense of community? We explore here.
Australia’s Individualist Culture
Research has found that Australia has an increasingly individualist culture.
Societies that score highly on the individualism scale are considered to place more importance on the “I”. As an individualist culture, Australians tend to focus on themselves and their immediate family, valuing independence, personal goals, self-reliance, and privacy.
Collectivist cultures, on the other hand, prioritise strong family and friend groups, focusing on what’s best for the community as a whole. In these societies, helping others and asking for help from others is encouraged, and responsibility to others is highly valued.
It’s likely that living in a highly individualist culture is influencing our perception of community and normalising a lifestyle that’s more siloed and separate to others.
How to combat it: Prioritise existing connections and find new ways to get involved in your community. For example, you might like to introduce a weekly phone call or catchup with a loved one to ensure you’re getting regular social interactions, and make an effort to meet your neighbours if you haven’t already.
We offer some easy ways to create a sense of community in your neighbourhood in this blog post.
Cost of Living
The rising cost of living is impacting more than our wallets – it’s also changing the way we socialise.
Some of us are seeing our friends less than we’d like to, missing out on social events and becoming more and more selective of the catchups we can fit into our budget.
Some Aussies have reported they’re choosing to stay in and cook rather than go out with friends, while others are disappointed they’re no longer able to host friends as often due to rising interest rates.
How to combat it: Find cost-effective alternatives. Chances are most of your friends are feeling the pinch too, so try suggesting cheap or free ways to spend time together, such as meeting for a nature walk or a BYO picnic.
Social Media and Technology
Social media can be a great way to stay up to date with the lives of your loved ones. But it’s not uncommon for online interactions to substitute important face-to-face catchups.
When we can see our friends’ updates online, we may be less likely to reach out to them in person to see how they’re doing, and this can lead to social withdrawal.
Research shows a link between heavy social media use and feelings of social isolation and loneliness.
The study found those who spend the most time on social media (over two hours a day) had twice the odds of perceived social isolation than those who said they only spent half an hour or less a day on those sites.
Current technology has also given us more options than ever for entertainment, with streaming services like Netflix available to fill our time 24/7 without leaving the house. While we may have reached out to loved ones to fill our weekends and avoid boredom back in the day, we no longer rely on socialising as much for entertainment.
How to combat it: Save some of your updates for in person and try ‘screen-free Sundays’. Next time you have some exciting news, prioritise telling your loved ones in person before sharing it to your social media accounts.
Try giving screens a break once every week or two – you may be surprised at how much free time you suddenly have for socialising!
Productivity and success have become important social values for many of us, with a lot of emphasis being placed on ‘hustle culture’ – especially online.
This focus on staying busy and ticking off goals can push friends and family down on our priority list. It can also make it difficult to find a time that works for everyone to catch up.
When juggling a busy schedule of work and family responsibilities, maintaining other relationships may feel like an obligation at times.
How to combat it: Be more intentional with your free time. If you’re finding it tough to fit regular social events in your calendar, consider intentionally dedicating time to loved ones with plenty of notice. For example, you might block out the first weekend of every month specifically for socialising.
Having Kids Later in Life
Research tells us that compared to previous generations, Australians are choosing to have fewer kids, and they’re having them later in life.
While some of us might remember growing up surrounded by cousins around our age, it seems it’s less common to see siblings and relatives raising a big group of kids together at the same time.
There seems to be less importance placed on the ‘village’ of extended family than in previous generations as our family circles are shrinking.
How to combat it: Focus on your ‘chosen family’ and opt for more child-friendly social activities with friends. You can create your own village by involving your kids and your friends’ kids in your catchups more often.
If you’re struggling with feelings of loneliness, talking to a counsellor can help you explore your feelings and potential strategies. Learn more about our counselling services or call 1300 364 277 to make an appointment.
We offer 5 tips to find your tribe of fulfilling friendships in this blog post.