‘Love, belonging and connection are the universal source of a well-being’ author unknown
To belong is a significant human need, mainly because by belonging we feel a sense of security, stability and we feel accepted. Belonging according to the Oxford English Dictionary is defined as ‘to have an affinity with a place or situation’. Therefore you feel a closeness, an understanding and have a natural liking for somewhere or with something.
We seek to be affiliated with and accepted by one another, our families, friends, to our culture and to our world. Sharing common interests with others and feeling part of something bigger than our own lives increases our motivation, happiness and health. We all need social interaction, some more than others but we all gather some strength from cohesiveness.
Belonging as a motivator
The desire to be part of something and have an affinity with a place or situation drives a lot of our actions. For example we may decide to join a sports team, a religious group, a community project or a hobby club to enjoy the camaraderie, companionship, friendships and support. We instinctively know as humans that this interaction is so valuable for our self-esteem and motivation. Knowing you have somewhere to be, with other like-minded people and enjoying similar interests instantly creates a sense of belonging.
What is most fascinating is that studies on belonging have proved that it lowers our need for unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, not exercising, drinking too much alcohol and lack of sleep. It therefore improves our overall health and most significantly reduces mental health issues. This is likely because we share tips, ideas and experiences and we witness others behaviours and choose to emulate them. It is also because we feel happier, healthier and more inspired just by being part of something.
Many believe that community no longer exists like it did 75 years ago during the war years, when people lived in small communities, supported one another, shared supplies and when faced with challenges pulled together. In fact, community exists now more than ever, in even more forms.
In every city, town, village and hamlet throughout the UK people do come together just as they have for generations. In the turbulent times we have faced this year it has been well documented how not only communities pulled together but the entire country. Proving we all belong as a UK citizen and rally together when we need to. Think how we all come together when our national football or rugby team plays a big tournament or when our royal family celebrate a wedding. That patriotic feeling generates a great sense of belonging.
We have an even greater opportunity for connection now with the web and social media. You can build friendships the world over and support community projects, charities and conduct work from the comfort of your living room. As humans we are programmed from birth to require connectedness and importantly human touch and contact. However our recent experience of lockdown during Covid 19 has proved that connectedness and belonging can equally be found in the digital world.
The hidden cost
The hidden cost of not belonging is feeling unsupported, lost and most significantly lonely. Loneliness can impact any one at any age and often derives from an unwanted lack of connection but it can also arise from belonging to the wrong community or being in the wrong relationship.
Being alone is a double edged sword as often by experiencing loneliness we lose self-esteem and confidence and then no longer feel able to seek out new opportunities to belong and for connectedness. When you’re in that mindset it is difficult to envisage a way forward but everyone has the opportunity to find where they belong if they are willing and able to look for it.
Connection is fundamental to belonging
Studies looking into the emotional consequences of connection and belonging have found that it is central to our wellbeing and motivation, it gives people purpose and meaning in life and incites happiness. Feeling an affinity with your surroundings, connectedness and being part of something is incredibly grounding and can never be underestimated.
Helena Field, Founder, Action Wellbeing