What does your neighborhood mean to you? You probably devoted a great deal of time to picking it out. It’s the home to your home, where you retreat to be around those you love; it’s where you relax but also where you make important plans that affect your life.
Though we may not realize it, our neighborhoods can be a significant source of happiness. Whether we feel safe, comfortable, energized or inspired affects how happy we feel – not just about where we live, but about our lives in general. That happiness, of course, then plays a part in our dreams and achievements.
Therefore, it makes sense that in social marketing we help individuals change their behavior by helping them feel supported by their communities. We motivate and empower them by engaging their families, employers, clubs, churches – people and places that surround them.
A study published last week in Science found that poor families, who were given federal housing subsidies in the early 1990s to move out of their impoverished neighborhoods, experienced substantial improvements in their physical and mental health, compared to those who were not offered the opportunity to move. They had lower rates of obesity and diabetes and lower levels of depression. The experiment involved 4,600 families in Los Angeles, New York, Baltimore, Chicago and Boston.
The researchers set out to test whether the individuals’ new neighborhoods would have an effect on their financial success. But moving to neighborhoods that were not as poor actually made little difference to their income or education. The New York Times, which reported on the study, elucidates a simple reason for this based on interviews with sociology experts: education levels did not improve because children who moved remained in the same school districts, and employers in the area preferred educated workers (most who participated in the study did not have college educations).
Still, these people grew happier! Researchers don’t know why exactly; however when we reflect on our own lives, it’s not hard to imagine an explanation. When we feel safe and supported by our community, we feel confident and in control. As professionals in social marketing, we should remember this.
As an example, we see great success in employing this approach in social media. We often capture the interest of our target audiences by engaging their peers on Facebook and Twitter. When we do, we are more successful at motivating people to make healthier decisions in their lives, as they have the resounding support of their online network of friends and followers.
It’s no surprise that our communities help us thrive, but I think we sometimes underestimate their power. If stronger neighborhoods can help people be happier, it seems they are more likely to make decisions that help them live longer, healthier, more fulfilling lives.