I attended a lecture a couple of days ago given by John Brueggerman, a sociolgy professor at Skidmore College and author of Rich, Free and Miserable: The Failure of Success in America. Brueggerman points out that, as a society, Americans are as prosperous as ever but also a lot less healthy and happy than ever.

Brueggerman says that our pressures to work, compete and consume have undermined our engagement in meaningful relationships. He was preaching to the choir when I was in the audience. My forthcoming book, The Business of Wanting More is all about why when we get what we think we want most we simply want more of it. There is indeed a sociological pattern in most developed countries that has everyone telling themselves and each other that more is better. The more we are hungry to consume, the more businesses want to sell to us and the more we need to work to pay for the stuff I’m not convinced we need.

The result is shown in some of Bruggerman’s stats and research:

  • Americans have increased the number of hours they worked every year in all but 5 years since 1945.
  • Two thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese
  • Divorce rate: 50%
  • 40% of married couples report being “very happy” in their marriage (down from 54% in 1974
  • 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety
  • the total cost to society of alcohol abuse in America was $184 billion in 1991

Then there were these two peices of data I found interesting:

  • the number of 25-45 year olds living alone has increased 400% in the last 30 years.
  • the number of people that the average Amercian says they can confide in has dropped from three in 1986 to zero today.

Brueggermann’s premise is that the root of the increase in prospourous but unhappy people is the decline in community caused to a some extent by technology like TV and PDAs but also by the dominance of the role of business, the economy and the market over other institutions like church, government, family and community. He says the solution is in building community.

 I believe the core need that drives most of our behavior is our desire for connection so I am sold on the need for meaningful relationships.  His stats and trends are interesting but what really hit home was this thing about community.

I was reflecting only a few days ago about what would happen in the way of support if a personal crisis hit my family – illness, death, disablity. Who would support us? How would I support my family of orgin who lives 1,500 miles away if a crisis struck one of them.

My virtual community (friends and family spread around and see every so often) exists but I am not part of a real community like a church or community of neighbors that drop everything and care for each other. I’m not sure I, or many people around me, even know how to create community. As I get older I suspect this will be on my mind even more.

Where do you plug into a caring community?