Do you have a third place?
It’s a relatively old concept – dating back to the late 1980s – that has new relevance in today’s hybrid/remote work environment. In fact, having a third place could have a positive impact on your mental health and wellbeing.
The term third place has its roots in sociology and is attributed to Ray Oldenburg in his book, “The Great Good Place.” According to Oldenburg, our first place is home. The second place is work. Our third place is a public place that facilitates social interaction and a sense of comfort. The third place is where you relax in public, encounter familiar faces, and can even make new connections.
This can be a park, coffee shop, church, gym, neighborhood bar and grill, museum, community center, barber shop/beauty salon, library and so on. Your third place should be somewhere you frequent. So, your favorite vacation destination doesn’t qualify as a true third place.
Third places typically have eight characteristics, including being neutral ground (no obligation to be there), a leveling effect (no emphasis on individual status), the ability to converse (typically light-hearted conversations), and have regulars (individuals who serve as “community anchors” and set the tone).
Kaetlyn Liddy says third places also are free from expectations of productivity. (Although gym regulars may disagree with the “free from productivity” assertion).
Why the third place is more relevant than ever?
Simply put, our first and second places have gotten muddled. Almost everyone worked remotely during the height of the pandemic, and the ramifications of that still linger. With many employees still working remotely or hybrid – our first and second places have become completely intertwined – making work-life balance more complicated. A third place provides separation.
Recently, I was talking to a colleague who said she and her husband have gotten into the habit of driving to a park or college campus to walk their dog – instead of just walking around their neighborhood. She works a hybrid schedule, and he works remotely. These walks give them a chance to leave home and work behind and decompress with each other while experiencing new sights, sounds and people. That’s exactly the point of the third place.
Emily Torres writes: “These third places often catch us at our best — we’re not burdened by the immediate urgencies of work, or the piles of laundry left to fold. They also offer up a safe place for us to show up at our worst when we need to, when we’re stressed or feeling worn down. Our only obligation is to show up, engage, and metaphorically kick our feet up with our friends and community — or alone if it’s solitude we’re after. Sounds nice, right?”
Fear not introverts! Third places aren’t just for extroverts. Torres – a self-proclaimed introvert – says these third places can offer anyone a space to be yourself. It can be a place where you can find “solitude without loneliness.”
Good for the individual and good for society
Third places can help improve mental health. They facilitate leisure time –creating a sense of wellbeing and positivity. This can help combat depression and anxiety, and increase our personal resiliency, according to Jacqueline Delibes.
The concept of third places also is good for communities. The Brookings Institution called third places community builders. In fact, efforts by many city planners to reinvigorate metropolitan neighborhoods include steps to create more public spaces – third places – to break down social siloes.
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