How Focusing on Belonging and Meaning Help You Thrive
We all have a need to feel understood, to give and receive affection, and find our people. In other words, we need to feel we belong.
In her book The Power of Meaning, Emily Esfahani Smith says that two conditions need to be satisfied for us to have a sense of belonging:
- We are in relationships with others based on mutual care (we feel loved and valued)
- We have frequent pleasant interactions with other people.
Belonging isn’t just about feeling good—it’s one of the pillars of finding meaning in our lives. In an article in New York magazine, Smith dives deeper into our current crisis around the idea of belonging:
“But a sense of belonging based on group membership is a false substitute for the real thing. Psychologists say belonging is defined by being in a relationship or part of a community where you are valued for who you are intrinsically. Just like we need food and water to thrive physically, we need to feel valued, needed, and cared for — like we matter to others — to thrive psychologically. Belonging that requires group affiliation is by nature contingent — your value is defined through associating with the group, not through who you are.”
Brene Brown, sociologist and a leading expert on belonging, contrasts the ideas of “fitting in” and true belonging:
“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
Belonging is even more powerful than connection. You can have lots of connections or friends and not feel like you belong. Belonging is an antidote to loneliness and part of resilience. It improves physical and mental health and is one of the ingredients for a flourishing life.
Building a Sense of Belonging
Positive, short-term interactions can create feelings of belonging. These happen when we open ourselves up to others and approach them with compassion or love and kindness in the moment. Taking the time to make eye contact, reaching out to connect on some level with another person can have profound effects on their and your well being and sense of belonging.
What are other ways we can increase a sense of belonging? Start by getting clear on when you have felt belonging and when you haven’t.
- When do you feel belonging? What relationships make you feel that you belong? What does it feel like when you have a sense of belonging?
- Were there times in your life when you felt that you didn’t belong? What, if anything, did you do to change that situation?
- In our increasingly digital world, rates of social isolation are increasing. How do you create a sense of belonging for yourself (and others) online?
3 Steps to Having a Meaningful Life You Love
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Hi, I’m Melanie!
I’m a Journaling and Joy Coach and I believe your story is the key to the life you want.
I guide my clients through intentional processes to find the answers waiting for you in your stories, bringing compassion, deep listening — and fun — to the process.
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