Monday, November 9, 2009
The Power of Belonging
As we approach the holidays, we think about gathering together with our families. That’s not always a good thought—have you ever seen the movie “Home for the Holidays” with Holly Hunter? Her parents pick her up at the airport and they get stuck in traffic on the way home. Her mother is jabbering on in the front seat and her father is talking to himself, and she looks out to the next car over to where a grown man is sitting in the back seat listening to his parents do the same, and he all but mouths “Help me!” to her.
I think most of us can appreciate that.
But we also need to appreciate the power of belonging to a group, whether it’s a partnership, a family, a group of friends or an organization. The desire to belong isn’t just wishful thinking—it’s actually a fundamental human need that is as old as men and women themselves.
“In primitive times,” says Duke University's Mark R. Leary, PhD, who’s looked at the many psychological studies on this subject, “a single human being was unlikely to survive, while those who banded together thrived and even reproduced. Psychological studies indicate that the same need is present in modern times and drives much of human behavior and emotion.”
People who lack “belongingness” suffer higher levels of mental and physical illness than do those with strong social connections, says Dr. Leary. What’s more, feelings of loneliness and depression may actually be your brain’s way of telling you that you’re being deprived of social contact. These emotions should mobilize you to consider the types of connections you’re lacking—gabbing with one true friend perhaps, sharing stories and solutions with others, or even cuddling with a partner. Once you’ve homed in on your needs, you can strategically pursue situations that will put you in contact with other people who share your interests. That might mean joining a quilt guild, hanging out at the local bead shop and working on your latest project, joining a book club at the local library, meeting other dog lovers at the park, or posting a sign at the local tennis court looking for a partner. (The “meetup.com” website has groups everywhere to do everything, so check it out.)
While some people may need to bond with only one other person to feel socially connected, others need more: A spouse, several close friends, and membership in a group. “Everyone is different,” says Dr. Leary, “but the key is to form at least one positive, on-going relationship.” Those are the kinds of bonds that keep you happy and healthy--not to mention sane over the holidays!