Deepen Your Connections and Sense of Belonging

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I didn’t fit in at my high school. I yearned for the admiration and embrace of my classmates, but always felt different and distant. Among my desperate attempts to fit in was showing up to prom in a dress I hoped would bring my Cinderella moment. The reality? The same old me in a monstrosity of wispy mint that left me embarrassed and more alienated than ever. Would I ever belong?

Belonging is complicated. There are many places we can find belonging, that feeling of identifying with and being part of a group that’s bigger than we are: families, clubs, ethnicities, secret societies, political parties, and football teams, to name a few.

Feeling part of a wider group can give purpose and meaning to our lives, and research suggests that belonging to a community correlates to better mental and physical health. But even if your sense of belonging is strong in some arenas (say, your book club), what happens in a place where you don’t feel you belong (such as your job)?

Retaining a deeper sense of belonging starts with feeling at home within ourselves. When we know and accept ourselves, we rely less on others to affirm our identity, which allows us to shed some of the insecurities and fears (What if I get rejected? Or say something stupid?) that prevent us from connecting with others.

From there we can plant small seeds of belonging, like saying hello to a stranger who looks like they could use a little acknowledgment or sending a kind note to a colleague. Friendliness helps everyone feel they belong.

When you feel out of sync in your surroundings, try this practice to bring you back to yourself:

1. Stop and take note of your emotions.

2. Be in the moment, noticing the space around you and whatever is unfolding in your presence. You don’t have to fix or change anything. Simply noticing can accomplish so much.

3. Connect with your body. Take a few deep breaths and feel what physical sensations arise. Then, use your senses as tentacles to connect with your surroundings. In this subtle way, you have found belonging.

Take a brain health assessment, play games, discover new recipes and more with AARP’s Staying Sharp.

This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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