A sense of belonging drives well-being—and it’s disappearing

Essentially the most putting revelation from an 80-year Harvard study of health and aging is that shut relationships are what maintain individuals completely happy all through their lives, and these relationships with household, mates, and neighborhood delay psychological and bodily decline. These social ties are higher predictors of our happiness and longevity than social class, IQ, or genetics.

Final yr, our firm, Enso, helped the massive job web site Certainly design research into how people thrive at work; essentially the most putting revelation, published in this year’s U.N. World Happiness Report, is that though individuals assume being paid effectively is crucial driver of being completely happy at work, truly our belonging at work is crucial contributor to happiness (by far).

So if social connection, or belonging, is crucial driver of our well-being, how are we doing after greater than a yr of social isolation, worry, uncertainty, and social rigidity? We outline belonging as a sense of being accepted and welcome in a spot, group, or group, and we got down to uncover the state of belonging in America.

In line with nationally consultant analysis that we developed with Quadrant Strategies, 60% of Individuals strongly comply with feeling belonging in America, however solely 35% strongly comply with feeling belonging of their communities. This hole between belonging in America and belonging in communities means that whereas individuals really feel a common alignment with the concept, and beliefs, of America, the lived expertise each day, in our fast communities, is just not what we’d like it to be. Following the Harvard research’s findings, low neighborhood belonging is prone to imply much less happiness, decrease well being, and shorter life outcomes.


There’s additionally a generational distinction: Youthful individuals really feel a decrease sense of belonging in America than older individuals (beneath 45 years outdated: 52%; over 45 years outdated: 68%). We additionally requested about political affiliation, and whereas Republican voters really feel a stronger sense of belonging in America than Democratic voters (69% vs. 56%), each really feel a weak sense of belonging of their communities (Democrat: 35%, Republican: 36%).

[Image: Bohdan Skrypnyk/iStock]

Partly these low ranges of belonging could also be defined by shifting cultural norms. Church membership is at historically low levels, native newspapers have closed across the country, persons are extra prone to reside away from the place they grew up, and 14% of respondents stated they discover the best sense of belonging at work. However these long-term traits have been clearly exacerbated by the pandemic; many friendships atrophied, and now more than half of Americans report feeling lonely, an increase of 13% since 2018.

We wished to grasp what creates belonging, so we requested individuals what they assume will increase belonging, and the highest-rated attributes have been “everybody has an opportunity to have their voice heard,” and “individuals will be who they wish to be.” However we’re additionally in a position to see within the knowledge which components truly drive belonging (through a regression evaluation). Seeing America as “a spot the place individuals like me can succeed” was essentially the most vital driver, adopted by “America creates alternatives for individuals.”

[Image: Enso/Quadrant Strategies]

This highlights one of the challenges in American life, and the American story: Particular person success is so prized that neighborhood belonging will be de-prioritized, although we all know from many research that belonging is what truly results in profitable life outcomes.

On the neighborhood degree, an analogous rigidity exists: We predict being welcoming to all individuals is crucial driver of belonging, however truly the information reveals that “a spot the place individuals like me can succeed” and “having the ability to contribute my distinctive abilities and skills” are crucial drivers. Once more, particular person alternative is vital to our sense of belonging, extra so than consultant variety. In different phrases, it’s not sufficient to be seen and heard, we really want to have the ability to contribute and succeed.

The dangers of a belonging deficit

Because the Harvard research reveals, there are very compelling, optimistic causes to spice up belonging. However there’s additionally an actual danger of low belonging. As a result of we’re hardwired for social connection, we crave it and search it out, and if we don’t discover it in our neighborhood, we search it out elsewhere. Historical past reveals that this can be a dynamic that malevolent forces can use to their benefit: Hitler is only one instance of creating a robust sense of belonging by denigration and dehumanization of others.

Absent a perceived means to succeed and contribute, individuals could search for different methods to seek out belonging, or they could be part of a trigger to be half of one thing larger than themselves; the January sixth riot showed how this need can be manipulated in dangerous ways. We want optimistic, opportunity-based belonging to appreciate our potential and keep away from repeating humanity’s worst moments.


Constructing belonging is a participation sport—and firms should step up

Folks have historically seemed to social establishments to construct belonging, together with religion teams, sports activities groups, organizations, and governments. These all have a job to play. However as we have now written earlier than, companies have a transparent alternative to construct belonging, and by doing so, to create robust emotional attachments between the model and its staff and clients. Enlightened corporations are notably effectively positioned to provide individuals alternatives to contribute distinctive abilities and skills, and to seek out success—crucial dimensions of belonging.

[Image: Bohdan Skrypnyk/iStock]

Small corporations can do that successfully of their neighborhood; Politics & Prose, a bookshop in Washington, D.C., hosts regular readings, courses, and journeys. And enormous corporations can do that at scale, as Apple did in its shops (pre-COVID-19) with Today at Apple artistic periods, and as Lululemon, Harley-Davidson, Leica, REI, and National Geographic do with coaching and occasions. Once we requested survey respondents which manufacturers create a sense of belonging, Nike was the highest reply, maybe indicating that it successfully champions an empowering, inclusive mindset that folks wish to undertake, and since it provides individuals alternatives to belong, just like the Nike Run Club.

Whereas many corporations have seen their position on the planet as arms-length and transactional, promoting to and speaking at individuals, enlightened corporations create actual worth by inspiring and connecting individuals round alternatives to contribute. This isn’t a stretch from what corporations do at their finest, however it’s a totally different method of present on the planet than we’ve seen from many multinational corporations maximizing short-term shareholder worth, which have systematically transferred and centralized alternative to some regional hubs and socioeconomic teams.

After a yr of social isolation, illness, and rigidity, corporations of all sizes should get again to what they need to be in enterprise to do: create alternatives for individuals to do, to contribute, to succeed, not simply to purchase.

Sebastian Buck and Brian Hardwick are companions in Enso.