BELONGING and LONELINESS: The Boon and Bane of Life

BELONGING and LONELINESS

Those of you familiar with my writings know that I consider  “Belonging” to be one of “The Four B’s,” the cornerstones of how we evaluate our worthiness. The others in this ‘quartet of life quality’ are Being, Believing and Benevolence.

Individuals with a sense of Belonging have meaningful relationships with others who  like and appreciate them. The close bonds are based on shared values and activities, customs and rituals. There is comfort and support in these relationships, which are mutual and cherished.

These relationships can be in a variety of groups, whose members can include family, friends, colleagues, congregants, or those in professional associations, unions, troupes, platoons, teams or even gangs. When people feel they belong to one or more of such groups, their lives feel enhanced and more meaningful.

We humans are a social species, with our need for affiliation programmed into our genes. While some individuals prefer being or living alone, the vast majority of humans need connection with others.

When we can share our joy or sadness with those close to us, we fulfill our deep needs to be cared for and to care for other. These events provide substance and meaning to our lives.

Intimate connections with family and long personal friendships are two of the most important contributors to health, longevity and personal happiness. When we belong, we experience inner peace and fulfillment, and our quality of life and even our emotional and physical health improve.

The opposite is true for people who have no close relationships or group in which they feel appreciated. They often feel diminished, sad and lonely, or the opposite of Belonging.

Loneliness and social isolation are frequently experienced nowadays, when families live over distant areas, people are living longer and social media often replaces personal communication. A recent study has shown that 40% of adults currently feel lonely and unsupported by others. You personally may have experienced pangs of loneliness at some point in your own lives.

Aside from the personal sadness which accompanies loneliness, we know that a prolonged state of isolation actually imposes major health risks: Lonely people have a higher incidence of depression, Type 2 Diabetes, arthritis, alcohol abuse, anxiety, and other illnesses, as well as premature death.

While most of us need human engagement, the experience of isolation and loneliness has been increasing. The rapidity of social changes and technological advances, commuting and travel demands, and the dearth of neighborhood togetherness all work against people having quality time together. Particularly important has been the replacement of meaningful interpersonal relationships with social media superficiality.

The United States extols individualism as a national credo which has served it well in many pursuits, with remarkable achievements in science, medicine, business, music, art, educationsports and other areas.

But the corollary credo of “every man for himself” has its limitations, and has contributed to loneliness. We lag behind other advanced countries in communal as opposed to individualistic goals involving family and community supports throughout life.

John Dunne wrote “No Man Is an Island,” a message which speaks for itself. Bishop Desmond Tutu has often invoked the Bantu concept of  “Umbutu,” the essence of humanity caring for one another within small and large communities,

The recent Hubbel photographs of the cosmos show how infinitesimal we human beings are. Our communal home is our small planet earth, which may be in some peril. We need each other more than ever to be parts of mutually caring communities of humanity.

Belonging is more than just one cornerstone of the “Four B’s,” by which we evaluate the quality of our lives. Without its feelings of mutual empathy and cooperation, our loneliness will continue to increase. But with Belonging, we can achieve our human potential to thrive in caring communities throughout our world.

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