We all want to belong, whether that’s through close relationships with others or being part of a larger community. But, for many of us, belonging isn’t just something we want – it’s also something we need. In fact, science shows that when we’re feeling lonely and craving a sense of belonging, the same region of the brain lights up as when we’re hungry and craving food.
However, as much as we might want or need belonging, it’s also very common to feel lonely sometimes or as if you haven’t quite found your tribe.
So if you’re feeling somewhat out of place and are wondering where to turn, we’ve teamed up with the Lifestory Group to come up with six ways to find a sense of belonging. The Lifestory Group, under their Renaissance brand, build and manage beautiful retirement communities with a focus on creating a sense of belonging for all.
What is belonging and why is it important?
So what does it mean to belong? This can be a complicated question and everybody’s definition of belonging will be slightly different. However, it generally involves being accepted as a member of a community (or communities), which can include anything from a sports team or workplace, to a family or religious group.
Though, being a member of a group that shares the same interests and/or beliefs as you doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll feel like you belong. Belonging means being accepted, supported, and trusted by members of your community, and vice versa.
And whether or not we truly feel a sense of belonging has a variety of effects on our health and happiness. For example, this study found that a greater sense of belonging had a positive effect on people’s general and mental health. When you feel as if you belong (for example, in a workplace), it’s also thought to boost your motivation.
6 tips to help you find a sense of belonging
1. Be your authentic self
Being your authentic self is one of the most important things you can do to find a sense of belonging. And the reason for this has to do with the difference between ‘fitting in’ and ‘belonging’.
‘Fitting in’ and ‘belonging’ are terms people often use interchangeably. But they are, in fact, very different things. ‘Fitting in’ means appearing to belong, and often involves adapting yourself to match other people, while ‘belonging’ involves feeling like you’re part of a group.
Sometimes, our yearning to belong is so powerful that it can cause us to join communities or groups that aren’t truly right for us. In an attempt to fit in, we might try to alter how we come across or pretend to believe or be interested in things that we aren’t.
Unfortunately, this usually leads to further feelings of not belonging. As writer Toko-pa Turner describes it, when we give the false impression of belonging, “the soul becomes restless.”
It’s worth bearing in mind that by not compromising on who you are, it might take longer to find a group or community that’s right for you. However, when you do, you’ll feel as if you truly belong. The key is to be patient.
For some people, knowing their authentic self is something that comes easily. For others, this process can take longer – sometimes even a lifetime.
To help you find out who your authentic self is (including what your purpose, values, passions, and beliefs are), why not have a read of our article; 10 practises for self-exploration?
2. Consider your living situation
From a quick hello to your neighbour over the garden fence, to that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you walk down the high street in a town you call home, the community we live in plays a big part in our sense of belonging. And this is no less important in later life, especially after retirement.
When we’re working, especially in a job that we enjoy and value, we develop a camaraderie with our colleagues as we’re all united in a single purpose. As a result, we can derive a great sense of community from our careers. So as we move into retirement, it’s common to experience increased feelings of not belonging – and this is when the community in which you live becomes more important than ever.
If you live in a place where it’s difficult to meet and engage with people you share interests, passions, and even life experience with – in an isolated area, for example – then fostering a sense of belonging can be particularly difficult.
However, although it’s quite a big step and won’t be for everyone, a change in your living situation can really make a difference. This might involve moving closer to family or relocating to a less isolated area.
If you’re retired (or thinking about retiring) and you’re looking to find a place to live with a good quality of life and a great sense of community, then you might want to check out our article, 14 of the best places to retire in the UK, which takes into account property prices, crime rates, amenities, and entertainment.
Alternatively, at some stage, it might also be worth considering moving to a later living community. This can be a great option if you’re looking for a place to live with a strong sense of community, where you can make and foster connections with like-minded people with similar life experiences on a daily basis.
If you’re interested in exploring your options, then you might want to consider Renaissance. Renaissance, which is part of the Lifestory Group, offers beautiful later living homes and is focused on building thriving communities that enhance the well-being of those who live there. What sets them apart from other retirement living communities, is that Renaissance stays in touch with the needs and aspirations of their members to provide amazing experiences for their customers.
They have communities all over the South of England, so if you’re interested in Renaissance, you can find out more, including information about upcoming events, on their website or by calling 01962 418104.
3. Volunteer for a cause that’s close to your heart
In her book, The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World, Nilofer Merchant suggests five different types of community to consider when looking for belonging – and one of these is a community founded on a shared purpose.
Finding people that you share purpose with is a great way to find a sense of belonging because when people are working towards the same goals, they often have more in common.
If you’re not sure where to meet like-minded people, then you could start by volunteering for a cause close to your heart. For example, if you’re passionate about the environment and you volunteer to pick up litter alongside others who feel the same, then you might share qualities such as selflessness, empathy, and a love of being out in nature. The key here is to pick a cause that you genuinely care about.
If you’d like some inspiration, then you might want to take a look at our article; 10 volunteering opportunities for the over 50s? Or, if you know what cause you’d like to volunteer for, then why not search for volunteering opportunities on our site?
4. Share your passions and interests
While being your authentic self is an incredibly important part of finding a sense of belonging, letting the people around you know who that person is is also vital. Finding a sense of belonging is an active process, and by making your passions and interests known to others, you’ll attract like-minded people and begin to create a sense of community.
If you’ve got a hobby or interest that you’re particularly passionate about, why not ask your friend or someone else you know to do it with you? For example, if you love hiking, then you might want to invite a friend along to your next hiking trip. Or, if you love reading, why not recommend your favourite book to others? Sharing experiences and discussing shared interests are great ways to foster a sense of community and belonging with the people already in your life.
Another way you can share your passions and interests with others is through social media. What we post and share on our social media profiles can tell others a lot about us. So, if you’re looking to tell people what you’re interested in and passionate about, it might be worth sharing things that show this.
For example, if you’re interested in football, then you could share some exciting transfer news you’ve just heard about, or even just let people know when you’re watching the game. Alternatively, if it’s a social issue you’re passionate about, you might want to share some material on the subject. You never know, it could spark an interesting discussion.
If you want to grow your social network online, then you could consider joining a Facebook group or an online forum. The Rest Less Lifestyle group is a great community for our members to speak to one another and share things that they’re passionate about. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a job or thinking about making a career change, then why not become part of our Over 50s Job Seekers group?
While social media can be a helpful tool for bringing people together and fostering positive social connections, it can also be easy for us to start comparing our lives to those that we see online. Although tricky, it’s important to try to avoid this and to remember that social media profiles are curated and don’t always reflect real life. Comparing yourself to unrealistic representations of people can sometimes lead to lowered self-esteem and further feelings of not belonging.
5. Get involved with a club
Making your passions and interests known to others isn’t the only way you can actively find people and communities that you might have things in common with. You can also seek out groups of people that share your interests too.
For example, if health and fitness are important to you, then you could consider joining a running club. Or, if reading is your favourite pastime, then why not get involved with a local book club or the one on the Rest Less Events?
As previously mentioned, just because you share a similar interest with a group of people, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll find a sense of belonging among them – it might even be the only thing you have in common with some of them. However, getting involved with clubs is an enjoyable way to meet new people, and by doing so you’ll increase your chances of finding people that you share more with than just an interest or hobby.
While this might sound counterintuitive, when looking to join a club it’s also worth trying something completely new. This could be something that you’ve always wanted to try, or something you’ve never even heard of before but think sounds appealing.
By remaining open-minded and stepping outside of your comfort zone, you’ll get the opportunity to meet all sorts of new people that you might never have come into contact with. And sometimes, our sense of belonging can come along when we least expect it – among people who we never expected to click with so well.
If you’re interested in joining a club and meeting new people, then you might want to consider using Meetup. Meetup is an online service that connects people with groups and events happening near where they live or online. All you have to do is type in what you’re interested in.
6. Practise acceptance
Too often, people focus on what divides us instead of what brings us together, and if you’re looking for a sense of belonging and community, it’s best to avoid this kind of thinking.
Try to look for things you have in common with people instead of getting bogged down in what makes you different – everybody is unique and that’s what makes the world so interesting. The best communities are built out of commonality, but also out of diversity.
It’s important here to remember that agreement and acceptance are two different things, and when fostering a sense of community and belonging in your life, acceptance is often more important than agreement. You might not agree with someone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t accept them.
For instance, if you disagree with someone on some political matters, or they don’t share your religious beliefs, this doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t find a sense of belonging with them. You might find that you have other important things in common, like similar core values and passions. And this goes for the people that are already in your life, not just new people.
While actively seeking out like-minded people, making lifestyle changes, and keeping an open mind are all great ways to find a sense of community and belonging, the most important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself.
It’s perfectly normal to feel lonely and a bit out of place sometimes, and it helps to recognise that you won’t necessarily feel this way forever. You might also find some help in our articles; 7 ways to help tackle feelings of loneliness and 7 different ways to meet new people.
If your feelings of loneliness persist and continue to negatively affect your mental health, then it might be worth contacting your GP, who can talk you through any help that might be available to you.
And remember that just because you feel lonely, it doesn’t mean you’re alone. Though it can feel uncomfortable, try to reach out to the people around you and believe that things will get better with a little time and perseverance.