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Molnar: Social Capital

07/24/12 5:55PM By Martha Molnar
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(Host) When she moved to Vermont in 2008, commentator Martha Molnar, a public relations professional and freelance writer, expected to sorely miss New York City 's theater, concerts and museums. To her surprise, she found that Vermont has cultural riches that rival New York 's - if not in quantity then in unique qualities.

(Molnar) When my husband and I moved to Vermont , we expected to miss New York City 's theater, music, dance, museums, and endless restaurant choices. We made plans to return every so often to feed the hunger we were sure we'd feel. Instead, we find ourselves repeatedly and happily surprised by the culture Vermont offers.

There's no rivalry in quantity. Even the world's largest cities lack anything close to Broadway or Museum Mile.

But where Vermont wins hands down is in a value-added component that's totally absent in the big city: its social capital. We're rich in creative, resourceful, talented people who are devoted to their communities, who give of themselves to a wide range of causes, and who can be counted on to show up at community and cultural events.

At any large or small happening we meet scores of people we know. We exchange a quick hug, a short conversation, or only a wave and a smile. During intermission, people are not standing around silently, sizing up each other's fashion sense; they're engaged with each other, talking about the performance or the latest bit of neighborhood news. They're not waiting impatiently in a long line for a glass of wine; they're making plans to attend the next event together. This intimacy turns every event into something more satisfying: a social gathering.

I find contentment in sharing my enjoyment of the music or the words with others I know and like, and who, I imagine, enjoy it with me. I look forward to talking with them as we all leave together and walk to our cars or decide to have a drink so we can continue praising or panning the show. The many outdoor concerts encourage even more socializing.

At all these events, we're building our connections to each other and to our community.

Even better, Vermonters create their own entertainment. Without hundreds of restaurants to choose from, we've learned the joy of potluck dinners and gatherings that rely on nothing but old-fashioned conversation for entertainment.

To those who've lived in Vermont all their lives or who moved here long ago, all this seems unremarkable. But to those of us coming from the anonymity of a large city or faceless suburb, where one doesn't just turn to a stranger and say, "I loved the cello in that piece, didn't you?" this connectivity is an unexpected benefit. The pleasure it adds is enough to make those planned trips to the big city lose much of their allure.

Because, as numerous studies have shown, the one ingredient absolutely necessary for happiness is neither money nor status; it's social connections and a sense of belonging. And that's something Vermont offers in spades.
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