Paradise found? Not quite. But damned if it doesn’t feel close to it.
My wife and I recently bought a small one bedroom co-op down in Florida. As retirees in our mid-sixties living in New Jersey, we thought we would enjoy being snow birds. And we have. We just got back from spending two months down there during the winter.
What we weren’t expecting was just how much we fell in love with our new place.
We feel like we’ve found not just a nice place to live but a better – much better – way to live.
And that “way” is to live in a place that has friendly social connections and a sense of community. Our Florida co-op does just that.
Now I need to add that beautiful views and lots of activities also contributed to our enjoying our new Florida place. Florida sunshine in the winter also undeniably helps. But as good as all that is, it still comes in second place to the friendliness/community factor.
The above attributes are relevant to anyone wanting to more fully enjoy where they live. So let me expand on just why I so much loved our new place and what the underlying forces were.
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People are social animals. That underlying fact is what makes this friendliness/community factor so important to enjoying where you live. Everyone needs to interact and connect with other people to feel happy. This fundamental human need is why isolating someone from human contact is such an extreme form of torture.
A well-known psychological theory, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, got this social need thing right. According to Maslow, once you get past the basic physical survival needs of food, shelter, and security, the next most important need people have is the psychological need of “belongingness and love”. He defined this need as “friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group.”
Our Florida co-op provides – big time – that social need Maslow explains so well.
But we didn’t just have the good luck of happening to stumble upon an exceptionally friendly group of fellow residents at our co-op in Florida.
The design of the building itself is a big part of what makes everyone so friendly.
Briefly, the structure has two separate five story curved buildings that surround a large central courtyard with a pool in the middle. Open covered walkways run along the interior of the two buildings for access to each unit. Palm trees in the courtyard provide shade along with some level of screening between the two buildings.
The building setup promotes social interactions and friendliness in a variety of ways. For starters, the front door of everyone’s unit faces each other across the courtyard. Add in the open walkways on each floor and the result is anytime you go in or out you’re likely to see someone. You’d be surprised how much a cheery “good morning” makes a great start to your day.
In contrast, the design we saw at some of the other places we looked at had internal dimly lit hallways that felt sterile and closed off. No thanks.
Further connecting everyone is the spacious central courtyard with a pool and lots of turquoise colored patio chairs. But this area is used for more than just swimming and lounging around. Every Wednesday night the residents informally meet on the pool deck to share dinner. People grill their favorite food on a large common-use grill and then grab a chair to eat and talk. Stories are told. Food and wine are shared. People come and go. Everyone takes delight in meeting visiting friends and family and especially any new residents.
Another great place to chat with others was, surprisingly, the shared laundry. Now in buying our co-op, the idea of having to put up with a shared laundry had been a decided turn-off. I was decidedly not expecting to enjoy it.
But the reality is that I ended up looking forward to doing laundry (well, almost). A bench outside the laundry room sat next to the building’s entrance. I rarely got through one of the magazines left at the laundry for everyone to read. People coming and going would stop by to talk. Often you’d end up with a group of people talking about anything and everything.
In contrast, the setup of the typical American suburb often isolates people. Standalone houses keep people closed off from their neighbors. Fences add to the isolation. Many neighborhoods also lack sidewalks that would encourage walking and chance meetings with others. Instead of walking, people get into their own portable isolation chamber (otherwise known as a car) and drive to wherever they’re going.
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There’s more to why we like our new place so much. The friendliness and new connections, per above, still come in first. But then …
The sheer beauty of our place is quite something. Right out our window are gorgeous views looking down the length of the ocean and beach. Palm tree fronds sway in the gentle breeze. This beauty is what initially attracted us to the place.
Every morning I would get up early, make coffee, and then watch the ever changing sunrise start a new day. The most stunning sunrises were when a distant cloud bank would hide the sun but rays of brilliant sunlight would shoot out from behind the cloud. Often a V shaped formation of gliding pelicans would slowly go by the window.
Seeing the sheer beauty of nature – the wonder of it all – felt almost spiritual. Enjoying beautiful sunrises seems to satisfy a basic human want. Maslow captured that thought with “aesthetic needs” being on his hierarchy of needs. He defined those aesthetic needs as “appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.”
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There’s still more as to why we liked our new place so much.
The range of walk-to-it activities we enjoyed were seemingly endless. You won’t find “fun things to do” on a Maslow list of needs. But perhaps it should be.
In addition to the pool, the whole Atlantic Ocean beckoned just steps away. Swimming? Yep, all you could want, walks on the beach included.
A favorite non-sandy walk was along the boardwalk shaded by large sea grape bush/trees.The destination of our walk was often one of the restaurants just past the neighboring park.
One restaurant in particular, situated on a pier jutting out in to the ocean, had awesome breakfasts. The always cheery waitress would greet us with a big smile and ask “What can I get for y’all?” Invariably, I’d order my favorite: roasted shrimp and grits with just a hint of garlic. Add in a steamy cup of coffee in a heavy porcelain mug. Listen to the caw of the sea gulls and the slapping whoosh of the waves. Breathe out a sigh of blissful contentment.
Every Saturday morning a farmers’ market opened up just a block away. Some of the things we got were vine ripened heirloom tomatoes, various squashes, and fresh fish kept on ice. Then there was the French bakery booth. They had great pastries such as flakey chocolate filled croissants and apple tarts. They also sold a deep dish quiche that was out of this world!
Another walk-to-it activity — reached by going over a scenic bridge that crossed over the Intracoastal waterway — was the events the neighboring town held.
My favorite event was a two-day sidewalk chalk art festival that’s held each year. The town closes off their downtown streets and lets artists create their own masterpieces on the street. Food vendors are all out. Live bands play in the central plaza. Great time!
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The takeaway here is not a “come visit Florida” sales pitch although I know I’m sounding like that a bit.
Rather, the takeaway is how you can make your current home a more enjoyable place to live by improving the way you live.
Add more friendliness/community to your home life. Organize neighborhood block parties. Use the sidewalks to walk places whenever you can. Talk to your neighbor. Personally welcome anyone who moves into the neighborhood. Join local groups you have a common interest with. All this might not seem like much but collectively it will make a difference.
Also, add more beauty – aesthetics – to where you live. Clean up your place. Hang up art work you enjoy. Plant flowers where you go to and from your house. Put up a bird feeder. You might not be able to enjoy a flight of pelicans but blue jays and cardinals are pretty special in their own right.