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Social snacking to increase NDIS psychosocial participant's belonging in community


This blog explains a practical idea that help providers can add to their toolkit for supporting help seekers feel more connected and have a greater sense of belonging in their natural community.


Have you ever been out for a country drive and when you pass another vehicle, the driver gives you a nod and a wave and you nod and wave back?  That is an example of a social snack.  It made you feel seen and acknowledged and when you reciprocated the other driver felt good too.


Social snacking is an evocative term coined by psychologist Wendi Gardner, for mini social interactions that are mutually enjoyable, increasing personal happiness and contributing to building a sense of community. These interactions are brief, informal moments that increase our connections to other people in our community.  When we have enough of these moments, it contributes to our sense of identity that we are a somebody; that we belong in the world and that most people really are good.


Best of all, social snacking is free, only takes seconds or minutes of our time and there are no side effects!


Social snacking is different to another wonderful idea, random acts of kindness.  Those acts are usually anonymous and as such there is no witness, reciprocity or acknowledgement involved and the other person may not know that the kind act even happened.


Why is it social snacking good for us?

As humans we all have an innate need to belong.  In the earliest times, belonging to the tribe was essential for our very physical survival.  We needed other people around to help us fight off attacks from wild animals and enemies.


As humans we also have an innate need for emotional belonging.  This makes us feel good and feel psychologically safe.


According to happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky’s broaden and build theory, when we experience positive emotions, this literally expands what our eyes can see in our environment. Additionally, we become more open to noticing and exploring possibilities and ideas and building our resources and connections to other people.


Many people are not getting their need for belonging met. Loneliness is at epidemic proportions in Australia. The recent Ending Loneliness Together Report found almost 33 percent of Australians feel lonely and disconnected. Almost 15 percent feel severely lonely all the time.

 

People struggling with their mind-life are more likely to feel lonely and lack a sense of belonging.  They may physically be in the community, but not feel a sense of belonging.  Social snacking can be a good first step for people who are isolated or out of practice with connecting to others.


How to do it...

These are just a few examples listed below.  There are infinite opportunities and different social snacks to enjoy that will depend on your preferences, and your own community.


  • Say hello to your neighbour when you are both taking out the bins.

  • Help a parent carry a pram down some stairs at the train station.

  • Hold the lift open for someone.

  • Pick up and return the glasses someone dropped from their pocket.

  • Help a shorter person get something down from a high supermarket shelf.

  • Compliment someone on their garden when out walking.

  • Post an encouraging comment on social media.

  • Smile and thank the barista for your coffee.

  • Let someone in, in traffic.


Once you start social snacking, you will be amazed at the smorgasbord of options available to try. You may wonder how such mini actions can make you feel good.  If this is the case, think about how bad you feel when someone could have done a tiny thing for you and they didn’t. Sometimes we ruminate over these small oversights and turn them into injustices in our heads.  Imagine how much better it would be for our mind-life to replay over in our mind the good feeling of engaging in social snacking.


Cautions

There are two things to keep in mind when starting a social snacking habit.


1.    Only eating snacks and never a full meal would not be ideal for a healthy body.  Likewise social snacking doesn’t replace having the full social experience of longer, deeper interpersonal connections that are needed for a balanced mind-life. 

 

2.    Remember, the key to social snacking is that it is mutually enjoyable. If for example, we smile or wave at someone and they don’t reciprocate be mindful that they may not have seen us, they may be preoccupied with whatever is going on in their own mind-life, they may have had enough snacks for today or they may prefer different snacks.


Take Action

Consider how you can add a couple of social snacks to your day.  Notice how it feels and discuss this with help seekers you support. Be curious about the last time they had a social snack and what kinds of social snacks they most enjoy. 


Ask if they would like to join you to experiment with social snacking in their local community when you are together and separately. Sharing social snacking stories with each other will make you both feel good and increase the likelihood of connections and belonging in your own communities.

 

If you believe that all people belong in their community, check out the Mind-Life resources for more tips Resources | Mind-Life

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