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  • Writer's pictureNancy Griffin

Third Spaces Key to Healthy Social Connections

Providing a sense of belonging and social connectedness, third spaces help people build individual and collective identities outside their homes and workplaces.



Third spaces provide crucial social connectedness outside the home and workplace. Coined by US sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his  book Great Good Place, a third space is a physical location outside  the home or workplace where people can relax, gather, and interact socially. These distinct places provide relief from the demands of home and work, and offer feelings of inclusiveness and belonging. In addition to promoting social interaction and community, third spaces support health through resource and information sharing.

 

Coffee shops, libraries, religious centers, fitness clubs, and country clubs are popular third spaces, providing a natural environment for connection and camaraderie. Creating and sustaining friendships becomes more challenging as we age for a variety of reasons, such as lifestyle changes, hearing loss, chronic illness, and loss of family and friends. More than one-third of adults ages 50 to 80 report feelings of isolation. The “loneliness epidemic” has garnered nationwide concern and media attention. For example, one reason older adults struggle to forge and maintain friends is because there is typically less opportunity to meet people organically when not in school (or connected to a school through children), or they are no longer working in an organized setting.  

 

The consequences of loneliness are dire. According to Surgeon General of America, Dr. Vivek Murthy, loneliness is as bad for our well–being as smoking fifteen cigarettes daily. People who are more socially isolated are three times more likely to be depressed, and also at greater risk for high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and poor heart health. Shining a spotlight on this issue will hopefully encourage developers to create community and connection by design. One such example is Serenbe in Fulton County, Georgia. Neighborhoods are intentionally set up for people to run into each other, at the farmer’s market, community garden, or front porches—a standard feature of Serebe homes.

 

Third spaces are a common theme in all the Blue Zones regions of the world. In the Adventist community in Loma Linda, the church serves as this third space. In Sardinia, Italy, neighbors meet for wine at five daily to visit and engage with one another.


In Okinawa, Japan, small groups of women meet in “moais" to support each other throughout their lives. In the newest Blue Zone region of Singapore, the Khoo Teck Puat hospital serves as a community hub. The soothing environment “lowers one’s blood pressure” just by entering it. The public is encouraged to enjoy the grounds, eat at the hospital’s health-oriented restaurants and fitness classes. Volunteers tend a 2.5-acre rooftop garden that produces organic vegetables, herbs, and fruit for both patients and the public.


At Glowing Older, we believe finding your third space is an important part of your aging journey. To quote renowned gerontologist Dr. Bill Thomas, “aging is a team sport.” By identifying your own third space, either one that already exists or a new creation, you can help bolster your social connections, combat loneliness, and even have some fun!  

 

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