5 Reasons Belonging Needs to Be Your Priority

Belonging

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Belonging needs to be a priority in your life.

When we list off the most essential needs of humans, we usually start with things like food, water, and shelter. Which makes sense, as our bodies need these things to, like… survive. However, there’s a less physical need that has just as powerful effects on our overall wellbeing.

That need is belonging.

And no, I don’t mean belonging to a specific group or organization (even if they have amazing Girl Scout Cookies). I mean belonging in terms of human connections.

What is belonging?

Belonging is our fundamental need and motivation to be accepted into relationships with others. We want to be part of a social group and feel connected. This desire is deeply rooted in us and hugely impactful in our behaviors (more than say, your desire to find the best iced coffee in town).

To fulfill this need, we need to have a minimum number of enduring relationships in our lives that we value and appreciate. These relationships need to be meaningful to us; therefore, they must include qualities like trust, support, and compassion.

Walking down the street and saying hello to Bob the Mail Guy, unfortunately, will not cut it.

Belonging is an innate human need because it is rooted in our evolutionary genes.

At one point, millions of years ago, the first humans depended on others for survival. Without the luxuries of buildings, running water, and Chipotle, they had to find their own food and avoid constant dangers. It makes sense that this became easier in groups.

I mean, it’s challenging enough for me to find my way around a parking lot alone, let alone facing human-eating animals in severe weather conditions.

Belonging to social groups became necessary for survival. Thus, it became critically wired into human behavior.

belonging

Belonging demonstrates value

Fast forward a few million years, and belonging is not as necessary for physical survival – at least not in the same way. However, studies have proven that feeling a sense of belonging is the most significant predictor for feeling value and meaning in life.

The self-determination theory includes belonging as one of the three necessary psychological needs in motivation and fulfillment in life (the other two being autonomy and competency). Our attachment to others is essential in feeling motivated and purposeful, as well as feeling like we have control over our own life.

Now that you understand what belonging is, and why it plays such a critical role in our motivation, read 5 reasons why belonging will insurmountably change your life.

5 Reasons Belonging Should Be Your Priority

By establishing and maintaining relationships in your life, you will achieve a sense of belonging. This sense of belonging is proven to have powerful effects on your life, including:

1. Improved physical health

Believe it or not, feeling a sense of belonging will improve your physical health. And not just a little bit, either.

Countless studies have proven that belonging can decrease blood pressure, enhance bodily performance, and increase odds of recovery from surgery or disease.

It’s like taking a shot of cure-all vitamins every day, only instead of vitamins, it’s conversations with trusted others. (I really should start charging my friends for all the immune boosts I’ve been giving them).

In fact, in one study of people recovering from open-heart surgery, the patients were three times more likely to recover after the surgery if they were married. Marriage-heart-love pun notwithstanding, that’s a pretty impressive result (and an advertisement for Match.com just begging to be made).

Conversely, a lack of belonging can increase negative symptoms and decrease the likelihood of recovery from physical ailments.

Our bodies are not only slower to recover, but we feel more pain. Neuroscientists have even proven that circuits in our brain that cause physical pain can be activated by a lack of connection in our life.

2. Reduced stress

One of the reasons that a sense of belonging has such an impact on our physical health is its role in our stress levels. When we have enduring relationships with others, we have reduced stress in our life.

Maintaining secure connections cues positive hormones in our bodies, helping us to feel better.

Without getting into all the different hormones for happiness, a sense of belonging helps our body to release hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, which increase our pleasure and confidence.

Additionally, social connection prompts our body to release oxytocin. Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “bonding molecule” or “love hormone” (two nicknames that were, for some crazy reason, never given to me in high school), starts the trajectory toward happiness and motivates us to strengthen our bonds with others.

Furthermore, a sense of belonging decreases our cortisol levels – which is the primary hormone for stress. Our bodies are less likely to go into “fight or flight” mode and get on edge.

If you’re tired of all this hormonal talk, or you still can’t dissociate hormones with regretful teenage years, you can think of it in a non-scientific way. The more trusting relationships we have in our life, the more likely we are to talk out our problems and feel less lonely with our challenges.

Have you ever felt better after talking out something shameful or challenging with a friend or partner? We don’t need research to understand how stress-reducing it can be to have a strong social support circle around us.

belonging reduces stress

3. Increased life expectancy

Having a strong sense of belonging is proven to increase your lifespan. In fact, one study found that a lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death by 50% – which is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Life expectancy and belonging are linked in numerous ways.

As you’ve read, a sense of belonging actually improves our physical health; it also reduces our stress – two important factors in living a long, healthy life. For all the ailments, sicknesses, and recoveries we’re going to face, the support and care for others will quite literally inspire us to get better faster.

Additionally, maintaining strong relationships will encourage us to keep healthy lifestyle habits and take care of ourselves. Rather than “letting ourselves go” (here’s looking at you, Spiked Seltzer and potato chips), we put more value on our actions as we plan for the future.

Studies have also found that having a sense of purpose can increase our lifespan. Feeling a sense of belonging with others is a crucial factor in bringing this purpose and meaning in our lives.

4. Higher self-esteem

Nobody wants to feel like a worthless schmuck. Yet it’s easy to feel this way in our busy world chock-full of social comparison, emphasis on achieving more-more-more, and a pervasive scarcity mindset.

To fight the overwhelming feeling of insignificance (or what I used to call, a typical Tuesday afternoon), we need to find personal value in our lives. One of the easiest and most reliable places to find this value is in our relationships.

Having a strong sense of belonging allows us to feel like we matter to others.

This feeling is not merely fabricated, either. In our relationships, people will depend on us and seek us out for happiness in their own life. Then, in turn, we will do the same for them. We can use our strengths to benefit others.

When I started out at my new job, I had very few social ties in the area. As I established new relationships, I made plans, enjoyed the company of others, and – most importantly – gave support to my friends in meaningful ways. My self-esteem increased as my connections strengthened.

A sense of belonging helps us to see our self-worth and raise our self-esteem.

5. Decreased anxiety and depression

It’s no surprise that, with all the physical benefits of relationships, there would be mental benefits, as well.

A sense of belonging decreases our likelihood of anxiety and depression. Secure connections can also help alleviate depressive symptoms.

As we learned, belonging is an innate need that is rooted in our DNA. If this need is not met, we can fall into a depressive or anxious state. A key aspect of our life is missing – and we’re going to feel the effects.

Have you ever felt lonely in life? Or anxious when you’re dealing with some challenges and have nobody to turn to? If shame is involved, these feelings will only increase, as shame is the ultimate human motivator (shame also grows in secrecy, silence, and judgment).

The lowest periods of my life and my friends’ lives have been in situations when they feel alone. And you don’t need to be physically alone to feel alone; it’s when you believe you have nobody to reach out to, talk to, or connect with that these feelings emerge.

The more genuine connections you make, the more you’ll fight off feelings of anxiety and depression.

depression loneliness

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Fitting In is not the Same as Belonging

I don’t think anybody would argue that these five reasons aren’t worth trying to prioritize strong relationships (after all, even the Grinch eventually caved). A lack of belonging causes extreme loneliness, not to mention the other physical and emotional consequences.

Because belonging has such a powerful effect, we are extremely motivated to achieve a sense of belonging in our lives.

We need to be careful, however, to make sure we understand that “fitting in” is not the same as a “sense of belonging.”

Fitting in is not real connection. Instead, it is our feeble attempts to associate ourselves with others. People will change their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to fit in.

It’s like we have a giant sign that says, “accept me for who I am!” Except we have the same sign written in five different fonts on six different poster boards, ready for whatever group of people we’re trying to impress.

To feel a real sense of belonging, we need to present our authentic selves in the relationship. Only when both parties are true to themselves (even if they are still trying to figure out who “themselves” are) will we experience real connection and reap all the benefits.

belonging with friends

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Conclusion

Belonging is an innate human need that is necessary for overall happiness. Rooted in our evolutionary ancestry, we are wired to seek and maintain strong relationships with others.

Maintaining a sense of belonging in our life has five key benefits, including:

  1. Improved physical health
  2. Reduced stress
  3. Increased life expectancy
  4. Higher self-esteem
  5. Decreased depression and anxiety

Because belonging is such a powerful motivator, we sometimes mistake “fitting in” for belonging. In these instances, we change our own attitudes and behaviors to be accepted by others. However, fitting in is not the same as real connection, and will not yield you the positive benefits you’re looking for.

Ready to find ways to prioritize belonging in your life and strengthen your relationships? Read the next post to find out how you can!

Before you go on, make beautiful connections, and achieve the happiness you never thought possible (how’s that for Disney-esque motivating), take a minute to read the questions below and post a comment. Just like that, you can belong to my commenting community.

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FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS

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Comment below with answers, ideas, and more questions, or contact me to collaborate on a future post!

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EXPLORING YOURSELF

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How much do your prioritize connection in your life?

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Have you ever experienced loneliness or anxiety as the result of poor relationships?

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Which of these benefits appeal to you the most?

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EXPANDING YOUR WORLD

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What role does shame play in maintaining healthy relationships?

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What is the ideal number of relationships for a person to have?

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What other factors lead to an increased life expectancy?

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