The Ingredients of Belongfulness

I thought I had the solution to the loneliness epidemic: better gatherings. I'd seen just how poorly most social activities were often organized, and how much better the well-run ones were, and thought—if only people were exposed to the right kinds of experiences... 

...except, I was having those experiences myself. As much as anyone, I was finding these great community gatherings and participating in them.

And yet, when I came home at the end of the day, I still felt alone.

Heck... even when I was actually at some of those events, I still felt the isolation.

How was this possible? If I found a rad group of people to belong to, why did I still not feel like I belonged?

It became clear to me what I was seeking was not purely social. In retrospect, that's obvious.

So, if I want to feel truly and fully belongful, what would I need to focus on?

Here, I explore what some of those areas could be:

1. Belonging to self

It's no surprise that a strong relationship with one's own self is critically important to anyone's sense of healthy connection. In fact, in some ways it is a prerequisite: going out into the world to find belonging when your own sense of who you are is weak can be incredibly dangerous. You can end up doing whatever it takes to gain acceptance, changing who you are to fit the expectations of others. You can become susceptible to manipulation or abuse.

Part of the equation, then, must involve looking at your relationship to yourself. What you value, what you really truly want, what makes you come alive, what you won't stand for.

Related topics: Journaling • Solitude • Walks • Exercise • Nutrition • Introspection • Reflection • Exploration • Expression

2. Belonging in partnership

In what way are you cultivating your connection with the primary person with whom you seek to move through this life?

Relationships take up plenty of space on the bookshelves—what we are interested in here is how that relationship interacts with, supports, and nurtures your relationships to yourself and others.

How is your relationship (or how could your future relationship) be supporting your journey?

Related topics: Communication • Love • Partnership • Exploration • Reflection

3. Belonging in family

Everyone's relationship to their family is complex, and for good reason. The way we relate to the people who raised us, the people we are raising, and all the others who are closely involved along the way serves as one of the most consistent and unavoidable vehicles for learning, growth, and dealing with the unresolved.

Through family, we are connected by blood, by history, by tradition, by culture, all the way back to our common ancestors. Each generation has passed something to the one after it, all the way to us.

That winding path informs much of our worldview.

How can we take deliberate action to investigate it?

Have we inherited values, traditions, stories, that can serve us well if we embrace them?

Related topics: Bonding • Inheritance • Trauma • Conditioning • Unlearning • Tradition • Culture • History • Communication • Forgiveness • Boundaries

4. Belonging in friendship

Friends, like partners, are critical in helping you develop your identity and progress towards the growth you need. Unlike a single committed partner, friends can represent and occupy different aspects of your life or your interests—and they can ebb and flow through your life as circumstances dictate.

Some obvious questions emerge:

  • Which friendships are valuable for you to be investing in now?

  • What can you do to nurture even one friendship into something more rich?

  • What kinds of invitations can you explore in friendship? What aspects of your identity can your friendships better illuminate?

Just one friendship that's deeply rooted in the shared growth you are being invited to experience together can be transformative.

Related topics: Conversation • Invitation • Consistency • Commitment

5. Belonging with people of shared interest

Groups of people gather around something they care about—if done well, it's to work together toward a tangible result that drives interest in that topic.

Deep connection arises out of people overcoming adversity together.

In a group setting, we can achieve things we'd never be able to on our own. We are a tribal species—social belonging sits in the middle of Maslow's Hierarchy because we aren't wired for survival in solitude—we are a collaborative species; it's in our nature.

Related topics: Events • Groups • Clubs • Associations • Organizations • Movements • Conferences • Camaraderie • Bonding

6. Belonging with place

Your room. Your home. Your building. Your block. Your neighborhood. Your region. Your country. Your planet. Your relationship with your surroundings is both a driver of your relationship with yourself, and a reflection of it.

What is your relationship like with your surroundings? What do you like, and what do you wish would be different?

The more we understand how our surroundings are affecting us, the more easily we can find ways to improve them.

Related topics: Home • Your space • Plants • Decor • Environment • Coziness • Air • Light • Sound

7. Belonging in your neighborhood

In what ways are you involved in, aware of, affected by, and able to affect the area around you? How well do you know your neighbors? In what ways are you connected to what's happening in the environment around you?

Feeling safe, supported, involved in the area around you can contribute tremendously to your sense of connection.

Related topics: Neighbors • Civics • Dogs • Play • Safety • Shared identity • Celebration • Ritual

8. Belonging with work

We'll use the term "work" loosely here. We humans are imbued with an indelible drive—to learn, to grow, to do things. While it may sometimes get out of whack, especially when tied to social standing and money, we nevertheless define ourselves in part by what we contribute to the world around us.

What is our relationship to that contribution?

Is it simply a means to an end? Our way of obtaining the security we need to survive and support our families?

Is it something we think we're supposed to be doing, to win approval of some kind?

Is it something we understand well, or something we are still trying to figure out?

The better we understand our relationship to our work, the better equipped we will be to fine tune (or overhaul) it so we can move toward a place of deep satisfaction and conviction.

Related topics: Identity • Impact • Money • Security • Values • Satisfaction • Social standing • Vocation • Calling

9. Belonging with nature

The world around us is rich with sensation—the carpet of grass under our bare feet, the joy of a dog bounding towards you with a ball, the smell of a sweet springtime breeze, the rustling of tree leaves in a forest, the color of tropical fish... nature is infused with aliveness.

Staying at home next to your air conditioner all day may be comfortable—no bugs, no sweat, no dirt—but it also lacks that aliveness.

Our belongfulness is enriched by a healthy relationship with the natural world around us.

Is there a park nearby you have been meaning to visit?

What's one of your favorite kinds of wildlife that naturally occurs around you? Where can you go find it right now?

When was the last time you planted your bare feet in the earth?

Related topics: Animals • Plants • Air • Sky • Earth • Food • Flowers • Water 

10. Belonging with spirit

Whether we believe in a giant bearded guy in the sky, or a magical connection that unites us all, or even nothing at all, we must at some point acknowledge the enormity of the mystery of existence.

To consider why anything exists at all is to dream—the answers will never be something we can rationalize.

As such, our relationship with spirituality—or, at the very least, of existentialism—can be continuously evolving, feeding us new questions and perspectives and insights.

Even some of the most cynical views—that this is all just a pointless accident of physics and mathematics—is still utterly fascinating to consider.

I also happen to believe the real story is far, far more nuanced and interesting than that.

One thing that is hard to argue is that there's a whole lot going on that is beyond what we can comprehend. Infinitudes of massiveness and tinyness, and us sitting somewhere in the middle of all of it, connected to it, affecting it by simply existing.

To feel a strong sense of belongfulness is to embrace this in a way that is healthy for you.

Related topics: Existence • Religion • Spirituality • Universe • Soul • Wonder • Infinity • Magic


There are likely other areas, and sub-areas within each of these. I'll continue learning and evolving my understanding of the whole picture as I go.

In the meantime, it seems it would serve us well to ask: what is my relationship with each of the above? Where might there be low-hanging-fruit opportunities to try something different? Which areas are important to investigate further, even if it takes a long time?