The Power of Belonging

power of belonging

We know that happy people have the best social relationships. This is true whether you’re an introvert or extravert. The ways each individual seeks and expresses connectedness will differ but it’s still important to our long-term happiness. Simply put, happiness comes from intersecting our lives and merging our stories with those of others.

My Journey towards Belonging

One way we do this is by belonging, being part of a group—recreation, civic, humanitarian, religious, or whatever. I have joined some groups over the last several years. It wasn’t initially driven by my desire to be more social but rather by my desire to develop some hobbies and talents. Then I discovered that these were activities best carried out in groups.

For example, I wanted to sing and so joined a barbershop chorus and later a chorale. I loved singing but also realized how much I enjoyed the camaraderie of the other men. In fact, I developed quite a close relationship with one fellow who lived in my part of town. We decided to car pool to our rehearsals and concerts and I looked forward to our meetups and chance to connect and talk about our lives on a regular basis.

Another example is running. One morning I was out on a run and came upon a race. As I looked into it, I learned it was a trail running club. I thought I’d give it a try and soon discovered that half the fun was running and half was mingling with others—talking about the tough terrain, heat of the day, and how we did on a particular day. Plus, as we got to know each other we took an interest in our personal lives. I loved the connection to other runners.

Another example is skiing. I had been busy for so many years that I didn’t get up on the slopes. Then a group of guys who were going regularly invited me to come along. It was fun being with 6 or 7 other guys, enjoying the camaraderie of telling jokes, laughing, disclosing some of our frustrations, and sharing personal experiences. All of this happened about the same time for me and were a big boost to my overall mood and happiness.

Forming New Ties

And then my wife and I sold our home and possessions in Colorado and went on a mission for our church to New Delhi, India. (It was a great experience, which I’ve talked about elsewhere.) When we came home, we had a choice about where to settle and decided on a small town of 30,000 people in the beautiful outdoors of southwestern Utah.

Fortunately, we’ve been able to connect with lots of good people here. Some of this is through our religious and church affiliation. In fact, research tells us that people who are church-going are happier than people who are not. A good part of this is that people who are religious feel a personal connection to God which gives them comfort and meaning. But it’s also because of the social aspect of their religious experience. These people worship and study together. They serve and fellowship one another and become friends and sometimes like extended family who support one another in ways that are incredibly powerful.

I’m also fortunate to be part of a men’s group. Our purpose is seeking to understand light and truth, from any and all sources. We get together once a month to share our personal experiences and insights on our individual journeys to live more meaningful lives. For me, it’s another example of the power, not only of ideas, but belonging.

What Groups do You Belong to?

What kinds of groups do you belong to? How well are they meeting your needs, not only for affiliation and connection but also needs related to recreation or meaning? Lots of our association with groups serve the dual purpose of connection and also fulfillment or personal meaning by being part of a bigger movement or cause which we consider to be significant. We want to know that we are significant, that our lives make a difference not only to ourselves but others around us.

Better Together

In truth, we can accomplish so much more if we band together than try to go it on our own. That was certainly true of our ancestors who hunted together, gathered food, and fought off common enemies.

We live, today, in complex and interdependent societies and most of us could not last long on our own. It reminds me of a metaphor of a big warm coal fire that is glowing. If you remove one coal and isolate it, it will burn out quickly. We keep each other warm by staying close together. We need each other and depend on each other for our physical and even our spiritual survival. I’ve heard it said that humans need tribes like bees need a hive.

From an Individualism to Connection

In the same vein, studies show that the happiest people shift their focus from an individualistic vision of how to live—walling yourself off from others, seeking your own comfort, accumulating stuff, racking up achievements, bolstering your own ego—to a social vision of connecting to other people and helping them solve the problems of their lives.

In 2017, Time magazine ran a special edition on happiness in which they reported that scientific research provides compelling data to support anecdotal evidence that face-to-face giving (like the kindness I talked about in my last post) is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness. Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain—and it’s pleasurable. Being part of a cause or group that helps others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful.

What is Meaningful Service?

In order to make our service most meaningful it needs to meet certain criteria. Our service should be more than donating money but needs to involve our time. Although there are plenty of causes that need our money both recipients and givers report the greatest satisfaction when they give of their time. Service which brings that greatest happiness is that which is face-to-face, whether it be helping someone who has lost a home to a hurricane, a child who needs an adult in his or her life, an elderly person who needs some companionship or a homeless stranger on the street.

We also experience the most joy when we give to a cause that touches our own values and passions. There are many worthy causes and groups but some matter more to us, personally. And better to choose how we make a contribution than being guilted into it by others. By taking time to think about how and when we can give and serve others and then planning for these events makes them more meaningful.

So, I conclude this post by coming back to my question. What kinds of groups do you belong to and how well are they meeting your needs for connection, fun, growth, service, and fulfillment? Are you satisfied or might you like to explore other opportunities for more meaning and connection? Ponder these questions. Then look around your community and decide if there are some ways you can feel the power of belonging by joining up with others in fun and meaningful ways.


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