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!

13 comments:

ReadyMom said...

I recently interviewed a family therapist and we talked about this point--that each person does need to feel connected and loved by at least one other person (let's hope many more). I do find it interesting that there's always at least one or two movies that come out over the holiday season that reflect this theme--Reese Witherspoon's flick last season, what 4 Christmases comes to mind and this year Kate Beckinsale is a similarly focused plot.

Peggy Bourjaily said...

I don't know what I would do without my family and friends. Great post!!

Alexandra Grabbe said...

I enjoyed this post. I have been thinking about this a lot recently with the holidays on the way so it was quite timely for me and provided motivation to re-establish contact with good old friends. You see, one thing people never consider when they get a divorce is how it will change celebration of the holidays. Families will still get together but not every year, not at every holiday. My daughter just married someone whose parents are also divorced, so she and her husband now have four households hoping to receive them at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

jennifer Margulis said...

I haven't seen that movie but like many others I can totally relate. Family stuff -- especially when you are the child of divorce -- can be so hard. I agree that we all need social connections and the closeness of family. I just hope MY children have a more intimate and easier relationship with my husband and me and their siblings than I do w my parents...

Christine - Origami Mommy said...

I think about this a lot. Especially being so far from family and friends since we live abroad - the holidays are always a particular reminder of the fact that we live so far away. Your post touched upon a lot of important themes - thank you!

Sheryl Kraft said...

Your post is so true - and so timely. Yesterday, I spontaneously phoned an old childhood friend, since I was in her neighborhood. I stopped by with my two sons and got to meet her daughter. I've been smiling ever since. Connecting does wonders for your mood!

Alisabow said...

I think the best is when you can find a group of people who "get" you. It's more than just belonging. It's a kinship.

Susan Johnston said...

I completely agree with this! As Alisa put, there's nothing like having someone (or someones) who get you.

Nancy Monson said...

Absolutely, Alisa--you belong with your family, but you may wish you were adopted! But you choose your friends because of the kinship.

Thanks for posting your comments everyone! I'm glad this week's topic resonated with you all.

Ruth said...

How nice to read this, especially at this time of year, Nancy. Families can be challenging -- but are so rewarding.

Meredith Resnick - The Writer's [Inner] Journey said...

There is such strength that comes from community, belonging, feeling like you have a place. Great post, thoughtful...and the title says it all.

Stephanie - Wasabimon.com said...

This really touched a nerve for me. Over the past five or so years, I've had to reorganized my social circle. There was a lot of pain involved, especially revolving around friends who weren't necessarily true or just weren't what I was looking for in "friends." It's amazing how illness can show you what people are hiding behind their masks.

Kris Bordessa said...

This holiday season I'm away from home and it's always hard (and sometimes it's hard to BE there!). Being in a new location, it will be quiet and I know we'll miss having a group to surround us!