A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. That is how important the sense of belonging is to the human psyche. Ever been in a situation where you felt desperate to belong to something – it could’ve been a particular career of choice, group or a set of people doing the same thing. Your desire to push your way into this group became such an important goal that you started to lose sight of why you wanted to be in it in the first place and your own self-worth. Ring any bells?
To belong in society is the most important yet least recognized need of most humans. It is a fundamental trait that we all desire – so what is it that makes us feel this intrinsic need to belong? Why are communities so important to us and how do we connect with them?
Mankind is a social being and this trait affects us all regardless of race, color, denomination or whatever distinction we put up to segregate others. It doesn’t matter if we are shy or outgoing, we all have a real desire deep down to connect with others and be part of a group that share common behaviors or to have that one person who understands and accepts us – emotional garbage et al. We want to feel accepted for who we are and acknowledged for our contribution to society and be known for our strengths.
It is thus essential that we do not doggedly force ourselves to belong somewhere that doesn’t feel right or complement our principles and ethics, as this can start to affect and compromise our own self-worth and bring about existential crisis.
A sense of belonging is a privilege, not a guarantee.
We need to belong: it’s a fact, to one another, to our friends, to our families, to our culture, to our community, to our country, to our world, to our religion. Belonging is primal and essential to our sense of happiness, health and well-being. Our interests, motivation, health and happiness are inextricably tied to the feeling that we belong to a greater community that share common interests and aspirations.
A lack of belonging can have adverse effects for children and young people, causing them to become disaffected, disengaged within school, disillusioned with society, and removed from activities which are unconstructive to their learning.
In 1986, social psychologists McMillan & Chavis formed this theory that has become the most widely accepted understanding of how communities work. They describe it like this:
Sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together (McMillan, 1976).
I implore you to take a moment (right now) to reflect on what are the most important communities and groups you belong to in your life at the moment (or ones you would like to belong to?). Think, how you can get involved, become more engaged, and take a leadership role (if possible) in these groups.
If you feel lonely without many supportive connections and communities in your life, make a decision to get out there and meet people. Link in with family members, make contact with old friends and get involved in new communities that match you passions and interests as well as your needs and desires.
Because truly, belonging is a privilege, not a guarantee, therefore take the first step and never look back.