The importance and benefit of feeling connected to others has been well and truly documented – and it’s certainly something the coronavirus pandemic has reinforced in spades. In a nutshell, connectedness promotes good mental health.

But if avoiding loneliness and isolation is good for us on a personal level, living in a socially inclusive community, where everyone feels welcome and like they belong, is good for everyone.

“We’re so lucky in Australia to live in a society that’s such a richly diverse tapestry of cultures,” says Relationships Australia National Executive Officer Nick Tebbey.

“And that’s a real benefit for both us as individuals and as a society as a whole.”

Research points to the same conclusions, finding that social inclusion is not only associated with better health for individual people, living among and embracing diversity promotes a better quality of life across the board.

“As human beings, feeling connected to others and like we belong is fundamental to our wellbeing,” says Nick.

“But on top of that, living in a multicultural society like we have here in Australia allows us to develop a greater understanding of the world.

“By acknowledging and celebrating different people’s cultures and life experiences, we foster a sense of acceptance, unity and the idea that in diversity there’s strength. That can only make us stronger and better as a society.”

And then there’s the fact that being able to embrace and tap into a wealth of cultures and backgrounds, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, can encourage empathy – and resilience.

“When we’re insular, we run the risk of being closed off and that not only puts us at risk of taking what we have for granted, it also means we miss out on the opportunity to draw on and learn from people and cultures who have been through great change and even adversity,” says Nick.

“That’s such a valuable resource if we allow it to be.”

How to embrace – and encourage – inclusion

There are many ways to get involved in Harmony Week, but inclusiveness and the message that everyone belongs is important – and can be celebrated – all year round.

“Simply taking the time to say or wave hello to the people in your neighbourhood and seeing where that goes is a great place to start, particularly if it leads to sharing and listening to each other’s stories,” says Nick.

“I know my own kids were intrigued when a neighbour’s garden was suddenly lit up with lights in early November last year. We just assumed they’d put some Christmas lights up early, but when we took the time to ask, we discovered they were actually celebrating Diwali. We were intrigued to learn about it and our neighbours were really keen to share.”

People celebrating in a group

And if you need an excuse to do something neighbourly, Relationships Australia’s Neighbour Day fortuitously falls just one week after Harmony Week this year.

“The feedback we’ve had is that people often say they feel like they need permission or an excuse to talk to or connect with their neighbours, often out of fear of rejection or simply not wanting to seem nosey,” says Nick.

“Harmony Week and Neighbour Day can both serve that purpose. Being COVID-safe, you could organise a pot-luck dinner, where everyone brings a dish that represents something about their culture or heritage.”

But even though being more connected to those who live near you geographically promotes that all-important sense of belonging, inclusiveness doesn’t stop there.

“Find and join communities that bring people from different walks of life but who also have a shared interest, together,” says Nick.

For example, you could consider joining anything from a cycling club to a local choir.

“Even online communities have a role to play here. And, drawing on Australia’s uniquely multicultural make-up, take every opportunity to get involved with and learn more about festivals and celebrations that have cultural significance for different communities,” says Nick.

“Apart from anything else, they can be a lot of fun to be part of and, after all that 2020 delivered, we could probably all do with as much of that as possible right now.”

Related reading: Why feeling connected makes us feel good

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