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The Hip Life: Community and Your Health

By Krista Elliott

A few nights ago, in Canada, the public TV and radio broadcaster aired a live concert. This wasn't just any concert, though. It was the last concert of The Tragically Hip. 

The Hip (as they are called by most Canadians) have been together for 30 years, and for a generation of Canadians, were the soundtrack to their lives. Their music was heard at parties, on road trips, during late nights with friends or lovers. They interwove bits of Canadian culture and history into their songs, from the Toronto Maple Leafs winning the NHL Stanley Cup, to Prime Ministers' words on a high school's walls. They were Canada's band, and just recently, the lead singer, Gord Downie, announced that he has a terminal brain tumor. 

Going out in style, The Hip decided to have one last hometown tour, culminating in a concert in their hometown of Hamilton, Ontario. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation pre-empted their Olympics coverage and aired the concert, commercial-free, for almost 3 hours. 

And during that time, Canada came together. 11.7 million of them watched the concert, either live, on TV, or streaming. That's in a country with a population of just over 35 million. 

It was a community. People coming together in person and online, sharing in a moment, sending fierce and protective love to a man who was raging onstage against the dying of the light. It was sad, but uplifting, and will be a pivotal moment in Canadian culture for an entire generation. And, it got me thinking about community, and how it affects our emotional health. 

Belonging, and its Effect on Your Brain

A sense of community, of being a part of something that is bigger than our own individualism, has proven to be a powerful emotional force. Whether your community is your group of friends, your fellow Kings fans, your church, or a hobby club, being connected to a group is a surprisingly strong factor in your overall well-being. 

A review of many available studies was performed by the Australian Psychological Society. In this multi-study review, it was noted that beyond the social support, "the sense of community provides a buffer against physical and psychological symptoms of illness, and facilitates adjustment." One of the strongest supporting studies was done in Alameda County, California, in 1965. In it, researchers found that "people who lacked social and community ties were more likely to die in the (nine-year) follow-up period than those with more extensive contacts."

Because fewer people stay where they grew up, it can be difficult to build strong community ties. But communities don't have to be based on traditional models of friendship. You may have a group of online-only friends who are always there to lend an ear. Or you might share your passion for antique cars with a local group or an online forum. 

No matter how you define your community, one thing is for certain: Belonging is something that our hearts crave, and when we find that sense of being a part of something, magical things can happen. 

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