Practical Wisdom: Longing and Belonging

Pracitcal Wisdom with Rev. Dr. Ahriana Platten

Have you ever felt lonely in a room full of people? I certainly have.

In this digital age, designed to connect us across continents, many of us still find ourselves feeling disconnected – even when we’re in a room full of people. Our deep-seated need for belonging can’t be met by the simple presence of others. There’s a big difference between an acquaintance and a friend, and a big difference between a room full of people and group where you belong.

Loneliness: The Modern Epidemic

Unfortunately, in today’s world, loneliness is more than an occasional feeling; it’s a pervasive issue that affects millions. According to a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, over a third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and the numbers are even more concerning for those 65 and older. The health ramifications are serious, too—loneliness is linked to an increased risk of dementia, heart disease, and stroke, likened to the health risks of smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. This isn’t just a personal issue—it’s a societal one that affects all of us in one way or another – and we can all do something about it.

The Nature of Belonging

Belonging isn’t just about being in a group; it’s about feeling seen and valued for who you are. When we truly belong, we feel an emotional and psychological safety that bolsters our wellbeing. This connection can transform our health, reducing risks associated with anxiety and depression, and enhancing our overall life expectancy. For many of us, finding our tribe—be it through work, hobbies, or local communities—is a game changer, providing a solid base from which we can face life's challenges.

Are you a person seeking a community? If so, how are you looking for one?

Do you lead a community? If so, how do you help people become safer and more welcomed?

The Deep Longing for Connection

Why do we crave connections? It’s wired into every aspect of our being. When we interact with others, our bodies release happiness hormones like serotonin and dopamine, lifting our spirits and warding off stress. But it goes deeper than biology. Many spiritual traditions teach that our connections to each other reflect our connection to the universe. By forming relationships, we don’t just fill a social calendar; we fulfill a part of our soul's desire to understand and weave ourselves into the larger tapestry of life.

The Pathways to Belonging

It’s important to combat loneliness and foster a sense of belonging. But how? It starts with taking a risk and starting a conversation with meaning. Talking about the weather gets boring. Go deeper. Is there someone you’d like to befriend? Begin with a coffee or lunch invitation to deepen your knowledge of each other. Be prepared to ask meaningful questions and to authentically share about yourself. Here are a few good conversation starters:

  • Tell me about your favorite memory?

  • What causes do you care most about?

  • What’s your favorite things about being you – and your least favorite thing?

  • If you could go back in time in your own life, what event would you go to?

A great way to meet new people is to think about the things you enjoy doing, then volunteer for an organization, join a club, or simply attending community events that center around those things. Not only will the events enrich your life; they anchor you to like-minded people.

If you happen to run an organization, consider that embracing diversity and promoting inclusivity play critical roles in building a welcoming environment where everyone can thrive. Don’t just assume everyone understands how to be inclusive. Teach your community how - or bring in someone who can teach inclusivity. In doing so, we can create a social fabric that supports people and helps them connect with each other more fully.

It’s a Dance

Understanding the dance between longing and belonging gives us valuable insights into our nature and our society. By investing time and energy in our relationships and communities, we not only combat loneliness but also enhance our collective wellbeing. This journey of connection is about more than finding a place to fit in—it’s about creating spaces where everyone can feel safe; a place where their presence is appreciated, and their individual gifts can be shared.

Belonging is “give and take.” You both receive and contribute. It’s a little more work than making an acquaintance -- and it’s so much more soul-satisfying!

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