I believe that belonging is one of the most fundamental aspects of being human. Without a sense of belonging, families would simply be about getting what we need, companies would be little more than places to do work and get paid, community would just be about resources and logistics, friends would become activity partners.
In Viktor Frankl’s work on the search for meaning, a major aspect of our sense of meaning comes from our ability to belong. And it is not just humans who seek to belong. Everywhere I look in the natural world, I see trees, plants, animals and even rocks coming together in forms that deeply resemble this sense of belonging.
Do you feel you belong? Do I feel I belong? What do we feel we belong to and where do we feel we do not belong? It is possible to put parameters around belonging, such as: how many friends I have; being part of a club or doing things on my own; being close to my family or separate; working for a company or working alone.
As humans we are deeply emotional beings; belonging has a felt sense to it. We "feel" before we "think". If you want some proof of that, remember a time you stepped on something really sharp, or put your hand on something really hot. We often focus on working initially with our thoughts. However, in my experience, it is much more powerful to fully process our feelings before moving forward with finding solutions and taking action.
The human brain evolved over hundreds of thousands of years in relation to others. This means that processing our stuff can be more effective in the presence of other people. This is some of my most powerful work as a coach. Developing trusted relationships to support people to work through their hardest and most painful emotions, in order to make deep and transformational change in their lives.
When we have a sense that we don’t fit in or belong in life it can lead to isolation, a lack of fulfilment and even depression. Whether it is about letting go of limiting beliefs, changing deep routed patterns, or achieving something you have only ever dreamt of. Stepping up now might be your chance to create a beautiful new reality in your life, full of meaning and belonging. So, how can you find and develop a feeling of belonging and connection? Here are some suggestions that you can consider and experiment with in your own life.
Lean into connections you already have. Whether it’s people you regularly see but don’t feel like you know well, or people you’ve felt deeply connected to in the past but haven’t spoken to for a while. Pluck up the courage and energy to give three or four people a call or meet up with them and take things from there.
Try noticing how much you do have in common with people around you rather than what you don’t have in common. Whether we belong or not can be a simple matter of perception. Look for little things or big things that connect you to those around you. This clip from Danish TV talk directly, and emotionally, to this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQ15cqP-K80
Start to notice how accepting you are, or are not, of people around you. It can be very easy to judge others based on our own ideals and rules. However, we have all grown up in different families and with different cultures. If we can let go of our judgements, then it frees us up to form much more powerful connections, which is a great way to feel that sense of belonging.
Try saying yes more of the time. It can be difficult with many commitments and too little time, however when we say yes to opportunities, even small ones, it builds a sense of connection and belonging. An example would be saying yes to staying for an extra 30 minutes to hang out with people after work or agreeing to try something new at the weekend.
Open up a little more about what it is like to be you. This needs to be done with care as it means being more vulnerable. Make sure you start small and that you trust the people you open up to. When we talk about our own experiences from a place of deep honesty and sharing, it can form deeper bonds and highlight similarities with those around us. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s all about talking. You will hopefully also find that you have the opportunity to listen to other people’s stories more deeply too.
Be Curious, Kind, Generous, Brave and Savvy: Reach out to others, get interested in them, help them out with your time and energy, and do it in a way that is deeply respectful of yourself as well as the other. Don’t give yourself away just to be accepted, and at the same time, don’t keep yourself separate just because it helps you to feel safe.
Identify places and spaces where you might find like minded and like hearted people. This might be joining a club, a social group, a team, a support group, a networking group, a project or a course in something you’re interested in learning.
Contact a coach or a counsellor for support in finding the sense of belonging that is missing in your life right now.
Next time you're wondering if you belong, where you belong, or what meaning life really holds for you - take a few minutes to consider if you have all the skills and tools to really work through these kind of challenges. If not, maybe it is time to reach out and ask for some help. It is not going to be easy, but it seems to be almost always worthwhile.
Remember that if you really want to create a change in your life, you will need to put energy in and be willing to get a little out of your own comfort zone.
As La Tzu once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.