Humans have a basic need to feel a sense of belonging to other people. We believe that this need developed in early humans because people could protect themselves, find food, and reinforce their shelters by working together.
If an early human didn’t belong to a group, life was much more difficult, if not impossible.
Acceptance into a group gives people a sense of belonging. A person knows that as part of the group, they are supported by others and must also support other people in the group.
Groups we can belong to include:
People often seek out others who match the group they feel a part of or want to join. For example, the shared experiences of a group of people with the same religious or political beliefs, people similar in age, or people who use different technology forms.
Social groups may form based on shared interests, like supporting a sports team, having children in school, or a book club. In each group, people feel a sense of belonging and support. People can also belong to more than one group at a time, increasing their sense of belonging.
Positive Effects of Belonging
According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, basic human needs motivate human behavior. He developed a pyramid-shaped diagram to describe the importance of various human needs. At the base of the pyramid, as the most basic needs, are the physical needs of food and shelter. Above that is the need for safety. Next is the need to feel a sense of belonging.
Maslow believed that as people meet each level of need, they can grow as human beings. The need for self-esteem and the need for self-actualization are above the need for belonging. But without meeting the need to feel a sense of belonging, a person cannot grow emotionally.
A sense of belonging affects how humans function when faced with challenges and obstacles. A study in Frontiers in Phycology found that a sense of belonging increases happiness and wellbeing. It also decreases mental health issues, including:
- Social anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
Feeling a Sense of Belonging
Everyone feels left out from time to time. There are groups you don’t belong to because they don’t share your ideas or values. If you feel like you don’t belong, here are some ways to create a sense of belonging with others:
- Find People with Common Interests
- Practice Communication
- Learn to Listen
- Move On
- Be Open-Minded
Being a part of a group means you belong with people who have the same interests as you do. There are many social and networking groups available to people with all different interests. You might consider checking online for people who share your interests or searching for local activities that you enjoy.
A sense of belonging also means feeling like others understand you. If you’re feeling left out, think about how you are expressing yourself. Working on your communication skills will make it easier to explain your interests and develop a relationship with a group. You might try saying hello and engaging in small talk with more people, practicing how you describe yourself or creating a list of questions to use to get to know others better.
Belonging to a group means you also understand and support others in the group. Learning to listen instead of thinking about what you’ll say next and listening without judgment can help you fit into a group.
Sometimes groups dissolve because people’s lives change. You may not be friends with people you knew in high school or from your last job. To create a new sense of belonging, you need to move on and find new groups that match your life. It also helps to be open-minded and try new things to develop an interest in a new group.
The need to feel a sense of belonging is a building block of self-actualization. There are many ways to find groups to belong to and many groups to find.