'I spend 2 hours in my car most days. I don’t drive it anywhere.'

Where do we go when the workday ends?

For some of us, the answer is simple. It might be the gym, bible study, or straight home.

Me? I sit in my car for two hours.

I want to clarify that I don't actually drive it anywhere and am acknowledging how strange that might sound. I also don't use my car to commute from work to home. It's just sitting near my house collecting dust until the weekend.

It's become my safe space where I can sit with my thoughts that aren't along the lines of "I should really get back to work." Or "I should probably introduce myself to those people sitting across from me." Or "I should probably do my washing."

I've now realised that my car is what psychologists have labelled as a "third place" as it has significantly bettered my well-being (I knew there was reason to this madness).

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg brought the concept into the lexicon back in 1989, explaining in The Great Good Place that people should have a social place outside of the home (the first place) and work or school (the second place).

Watch: 5 lifestyle hacks to help with your anxiety. Post continues after video. 

Video via Mamamia.

Psychologist Carly Dober, at Enriching Lives Psychology, tells Mamamia that a third place is communal spaces between home and work, like a bar or cafe.

"Ideally though, they're spaces where you don't actually have to spend any money — and this can be difficult to find," she says.

Essentially, third places can also be churches, bookstores, book clubs or community centres but in 2023, these aren't places everyone goes to regularly.

But if you think you might not have a third place, then you're not alone.

Some of us might, but it realistically depends on where you live, your financial access to third places and how much time you have at the end of a busy workday.

"When you think about places that facilitate social interaction and also relaxation, you think of public parks, forests, beaches, community centres, or social clubs like book clubs or bird watching," says Dober. "Often, these spaces depend on what infrastructure you have in your suburbs or cities — so many people don’t have these options."

Dr. Narae Lee, a postdoctoral scholar at the Population Research Institute of The Pennsylvania State University, has studied the relationship between our environment and our well-being, and the impact of third places.

"One of the important features of 'third places' is social contact, either directly or indirectly," Lee told Today"In third places, you can enjoy direct social interaction with other people by chatting and enjoying activities with them."


Considering we've just come out of a global pandemic, are dealing with a cost-of-living crisis and hundreds of thousands of millennials moved to regional Australia during the last census period, a lot of us simply don't have a third place.

Dober argues the layout of cities is another factor why we're not getting our daily dose of socialising in a neutral space like the generations before us.

"Urbanisation and urban sprawl with poor city design have led to the demise of third places for many people," she tells Mamamia. "Australia is also a very car dependant city, in which you aren’t able to walk comfortably to many third places you’d like to visit because they’re too far away, or you have to pay to access many third places because government funding has changed and they’ve now been privatised.

"Also, the nature of insecure work and the casualisation of the workforce and cost-of-living crisis means many people don’t have the time to spend on leisure and relaxation that precious generations used to have."

But in recent years, we've turned to the internet and made it our "third place".

The answer as to why is simple, says Dober.

"The internet is much more accessible for many people to socialise," she explains. "The majority of people have Internet either on their phones or in their homes and when people are working and studying and juggling the demands of their lives, the Internet is a space that is always available for use for engagement."


Not to mention the plenty of legitimate spaces that offer emotional and social support. 

"We create these safe spaces in online spaces like gaming forums or blogs," Dober continues. "People do form genuine relationships online and this can be very helpful when physical third places are not available to us."

Like most things related to the internet, there are positive and negative factors.

While these online third places give us increased access and are inclusive, Dober says face-to-face social contact is a protective factor for our mental and physical health.

"Without that, humans might not flourish the way that we should," she tells us. "Not to mention, we know that millennials and the generations under millennials have worse mental health than previous generations. Maybe the lack of third spaces and the lack of indirect and direct social connection that you get in third spaces is one significant contributing factor to this demise in well-being."

When we don't have a third place, our communities suffer, our ability to maintain a balance between our personal and work lives is impacted significantly and our access to genuine connection can become limited.

Decades of research, argues Dober, tells us how important direct and indirect social interaction is to our physical and mental health.

"Without a 'healthy dose' of that, it would make sense that with all the other stressors that we have in life, our well-being would suffer. There’s also significant research that tells us how poor city design can harm us, and smart city design or sustainable city design is integral to community health and well-being."


Around 1 in 5 Australians have depression and not having a third place or a tie to community and connection is absolutely a contributing factor, Dober continues.

"We know how important places and community are for buffering mental health symptoms or being part of mental health treatment, so people being physically isolated and experiencing loneliness would not be helping," she explains. And then when many of the third places people have available to them are places where you do need to spend money, such as shopping centres or cinemas, this can be exclusionary for many people which again impacts mental health and well-being."

We all deserve to have spaces where we can connect with others, that isn't our home or workplace. Dober encourages people who don't have that kind of access to provide feedback to their local council or state members.

"[Tell them] you want third spaces in your town or suburb because if you don't ask and there is not much noise from residents, they might not act."

For now, I'll just be here in my perpetually parked car.

This article was originally published in December 2023, and has since been updated with new information.

Feature Image: Getty.

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