Human beings have an inherent desire for a sense of belonging. Connection makes us feel happy and secure while feeling rejected causes unhappiness and pain.
Why do humans need a sense of belonging?
Feeling like we belong is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. When we experience a sense of connection, it improves our motivation, health, and happiness. Connecting with others also helps us to understand that everyone struggles and has difficult times. This helps us to feel less alone.
In addition, we love to share good times with others, too. When we see something wonderful, like a child’s smile or a sunset, it increases our joy in the moment when we can share it with someone we care about.
A new study has found that a sense of belonging helps give a sense of meaning to our lives (Lambert et al., 2013). This is important because a sense of meaning can affect our wellbeing in many ways.
Studies have shown that people who feel life is meaningful are more likely to be in good psychological and physical health. On the flip side, people who feel life isn’t meaningful are more likely to be depressed, require therapy and even experience suicidal thoughts.
If feeling like we belong helps give meaning to our lives, it is understandable that social rejection is painful.
How social rejection affects us
Unfortunately, many of us experience social rejection at various times in our lives. This is often true in the case of highly intelligent people and deep thinkers, given the superficiality of today’s society. It is part of human nature to find it difficult to accept those who are different from us.
This can mean that you may be rejected by those who don’t share the same beliefs and outlook on life as you. We may experience rejection and exclusion at school, work, and in social or family groups.
This can be particularly painful if the people who misunderstand you are your family. Being rejected or misunderstood can lead to a difficulty in accepting ourselves as we are. We may try to change our beliefs and behavior in order to fit in. This rarely works, though as we then feel cut off from our true selves.
Clearly, a sense of meaning is very important to us. And if a sense of belonging can increase that, then it is something worth building.
So how can we build connections in our lives?
Building a Sense of Belonging
1. Learn to accept yourself first.
If you can accept yourself fully, flaws and all, you will be more confident and open with others, increasing the likelihood of finding the kind of people with whom you truly belong. You will be less likely to present a front to the world allowing the right people to get to know the real you.
2. Follow your passion and you will find like-minded folk.
If you follow your interests and join groups with similar ones, you are more likely to find people like you. You may find like-minded folk by pursuing a hobby, joining a sports team or political group, or joining an online group related to your passion. This can lead to more meaningful relationships.
3. Seek to connect with the right people instead of trying to become more likable to the wrong ones.
If you find the right ‘tribe,’ you will feel connected to them because of the values and interests that you share. You don’t need to change yourself to fit in with others. With the right people, you will find that deeper relationships evolve easily because you are able to be yourself.
4. Stop seeking validation and approval from others.
A desire to feel a sense of belonging can make us people pleasers. Unfortunately, as we all know, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Trying to please others only separates us from ourselves, leading to more pain. And we will never receive love and approval from everyone no matter how hard we try.
As Kurt Cobain said, I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not. So, give up trying to please everyone all of the time. You have to be true to yourself to create a meaningful life.
5. Finally, look for ways you are similar to others rather than focusing on differences.
When we judge others less, we tend to feel less judged ourselves. Everyone has different values skills and attributes, and we can learn from them if we remain open-minded and non-judgemental. If we want to feel accepted, it helps if we are accepting of others. This doesn’t mean we have to put up with bad behaviour from others, but we can try to act with compassion.
A sense of connection is so important to humans, but we live in a society where the importance of community is undervalued. Indeed, many media sources seem keen to emphasize what makes us different and divides us rather than bringing us together. This means it is left to us to build a sense of community and belonging.
Achieving this might not be easy, however, if it leads to us feeling life is more meaningful and improves our health and well-being, it is definitely worth the effort.
We’d love to hear what gives you a sense of belonging. Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.