Sunday, January 15, 2017

Belonging / Becoming / - I so love this - Thank you Emily Esfahani Smith

Last man standing: Matt Damon in The Martian.
Photograph: Allstar/20th Century Fox

Friend zone: why we all long to belong

Relationships – especially close ones – are crucial, says Emily Esfahani Smith, which is why loneliness is so pernicious

We all need to feel understood, recognised and affirmed by our friends, family and romantic partners. We all need to find our tribe.
Research has shown that among the benefits that come with being in a relationship or group, a sense of belonging clocks in as the most important driver of meaning. When other people think you matter and treat you as if you matter, you believe you matter, too.
Though we all share a need to belong, in the first decades of the 20th century many influential psychologists and physicians – those guardians of the mind and body – did not acknowledge this fundamental aspect of human nature. The idea that children needed parental love and care to live a full and meaningful life was not only considered medically dangerous, it was dismissed as immoral and mawkish.
As behavioural psychology came into vogue and academic psychologists turned their attention to child-rearing, this view shifted and they began to examine and affirm the vital importance of attachment in early life. They discovered that people, whatever their age, needed more than food and shelter to live full and healthy lives.
People who are isolated feel their lives are less meaningful - and small moments of intimacy are highly valuable
The way we satisfy our need to belong transforms over the course of our lives. In our early years, the love of a caregiver is essential; as we grow older, we find belonging in other relationships. What remains the same, though, is the vital importance of these bonds.
But, sadly, many of us lack close ties. At a time when we are more connected digitally than ever before, rates of social isolation are rising. About 20% of people consider loneliness a “major source of unhappiness in their lives” and a third of Americans aged over 45 say they are lonely. Meanwhile, the results of an Age UK poll published recently suggests that half a million people over the age of 60 usually spend each day alone, and it’s not unusual for another half a million people to go five or six days without seeing or speaking to someone.
In 1985, when the General Social Survey asked Americans how many people they’d discussed important matters with over the past six months, the most common response was three. When the survey was repeated again in 2004, the most common response was zero.
All these figures reveal more than a rise in loneliness – they reveal a lack of meaning in people’s lives. In surveys, we list our close relationships as our most important sources of meaning. Research shows that people who are lonely and isolated feel their lives are less meaningful.
While close relationships are critical for living a meaningful life, they are not the only important social bonds we need to cultivate. Psychologists have also discovered the value of small moments of intimacy. “High-quality connections,” as one researcher calls them, are positive, short-term interactions between two people; when a couple holds hands on a walk or when two strangers have an empathetic conversation on a plane. High-quality connections have the potential to unlock meaning in our interactions with acquaintances, colleagues and strangers.
We can’t control whether someone will make a high-quality connection with us, but we can all choose to initiate or reciprocate one. We can say hello to a stranger on the street rather than avert our eyes. We can choose to value people rather than devalue them. We can invite people to belong.
The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That matters by Emily Esfahani Smith is published by Rider at £14.99. To order a copy for £11.99, go to