A ‘third space’ is vital for our wellbeing. Here’s how to create one at home
While lockdown undeniably has many challenges, experts say that for many people, the loss of their “third place” is the real clincher.
Unlike our home (first place) or workplace or school (second place), our third place is somewhere we regularly go and feel part of a community.
Lockdown got you missing your coffee shop chinwag, bartender banter or camaraderie on the sports field? You’re not alone.Credit:iStock
It could be a community garden, footy club, surf break, farmers market or religious institution. It’s our “happy place” where we see familiar faces, have incidental chats and feel part of something – and it’s usually the places we can’t get to in lockdown.
The third place concept is used by town planners, architects and psychologists alike, who all recognise how much humans thrive when we have a sense of belonging outside of the home.
“In the absence of this belonging and connecting, we miss out on so much of what it means to be human; especially a happy human,” says Dr Timothy Sharp, Chief Happiness Officer at The Happiness Institute.
“Individual health and wellbeing is obviously important, but real happiness comes mostly from positive meaningful relationships and belonging.”
Why we need these happy places
Dr Tony Matthews, Griffith University senior lecturer in Urban and Environmental Planning, says we can’t underestimate how vital third places are for our wellbeing.
“If you take away those opportunities for incidental interaction … it’s enormously harmful to the social cohesion of a neighbourhood or potentially even a whole society,” he says.
“[We’re also missing] the psychological transition that we go through when we move from one space to another. When you come home from work, you start to go into a different mindset and when you leave to go to work you go into a different mindset and when you go to see friends you move into a different mindset. If you’re stuck at home all the time, you get stuck in this kind of mental loop.”
And while we may manage some family WhatsApp groups and the odd FaceTime with friends, one thing that often can’t be replicated in lockdown is those incidental chats with our acquaintances at our third place.
“People are not being allowed to go to their third places – the places where they meet like-minded people, where they feel happy, where they have a social exchange and feel part of something,” Matthews says.
“[Third places] are opportunistic and incidental – a lot of it is based on being in a space at a time. You don’t get on Zoom and run into your neighbours.”
How to create a third place at home
While you may not be able to re-create the social interactions of a community third place at home, experts say it’s important we try to separate work, family and leisure activities in any way we can.
In fact, Danny Juric, director of Plus Architecture Brisbane, says they are now trying to factor in a “third space” in home design.
“I fear that the current fabric of home designs doesn’t allow for that separation of work and play and home,” he says.
Where possible, he recommends designing a home office with a separate entrance to facilitate a good mental shift between work and family time.
“You might actually have to go outside on the veranda to walk around or go downstairs [to get to your workspace],” he says.
Juric says people are also thinking about ways to accommodate leisure activities at home so that if you can’t get out of the house, you’re still set able to engage with something you love.
“[We’re looking for ways to help people] extract themselves out of work and still have their little haven, whether that’s a fire pit, pizza oven or amazing veggie patch – things like that which create a respite [from] the other two environments,” he says.
While most of us may not be in a position to design our ideal lockdown home, Sharp says there are some nifty ways to shift between work/school and home life.
“If you can, use different rooms for different purposes – have a ‘work space’, a ‘family space’ and maybe a ‘chill space’,” he suggests.
“Even just a few small changes to the way furniture is organised, so that different parts of a room might be used for different activities, can still make a positive difference.”
If your dining table is currently doubling as a home office and school zone, an end-of-day pack-up can help you transition.
“Make an effort to clear away all of the work/learning reminders at a certain time each night and make an effort to only do and talk about non-work and non-school topics in the evening,” Sharp suggests.
“Try to have somewhere in your home or outside your home if you have a courtyard or backyard that’s dedicated to rest and relaxation and, ideally, pleasure.”
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