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The Science of Belonging (+ 6 Easy Ways to Strengthen Your Ward and Community)

One of our most basic spiritual needs is that of belonging. It is a fundamental need found in all cultures and all types of people. 

The Gospel of Belonging

Christ’s entire ministry and example showed He was completely aware of each person’s need for social and spiritual belonging. His ministry was one of healing and lifting those believed to be less deserving such as the lepers, the poor, women, and Samaritans. He reached out and loved the sick, the broken, the rejected, the unpopular, and the burdened.  His love invited all to be as one. He shattered the social norms of His time that excluded others.

The Apostle Paul gave us a powerful metaphor when he asked that we be one as the Body of Christ. The human body operates as one whole but is made up of many very different parts or members. Each is important. Paul pointed out that the body would not work properly if the whole were just alike, such as only eyes or ears. We all bring different gifts and talents. [1] This is true in our families, neighborhoods, and communities as well as our ward congregations.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught, “It is our love for God that kindles our love for those around us. This is the path of discipleship. It is the path God desires us to walk.” [2] Likewise, President Eyring said, “The unity we seek in our families and in the Church will come as we allow the Holy Ghost to affect what we see when we look at one another and even when we think of each other. The spirit sees with the pure love of Christ. [3] 

The Science of Belonging

Studies have shown that belonging is powerful and has a major impact on performance and retention. [4] In fact, our need to belong is so strong that even minimal cues of belonging, such as making positive eye contact and minimum conversation has a positive affect. [5]

A sense of belonging to a greater community also improves a person’s motivation, health, and happiness. Strong connections and helping others helps us know that all people struggle and have difficult times. It helps us know we are not alone. There is strength and comfort in that knowledge. [6] 

Even a single instance of being excluded can undermine well being and create pain and conflict. [7]  “When we don’t feel like we belong—when we feel excluded, rejected, or like an outsider—it saps our precious mental resources and energy, distracts us, and keeps us from being fully present in the moment. For instance, when students feel like they belong, they show more motivation, engagement, and self-efficacy . . . when it’s lacking, students find it difficult to succeed academically and are less likely to thrive.” [8] This is true for all ages, people, and circumstances.

6 Simple Tips

Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “I don’t believe I’ve ever met anybody who didn’t want to belong to something that made them feel worthwhile, that made them feel that they had value." [9] Here are six ways we can all help in our wards as well as our communities and neighborhoods:

1. Learn people’s names. Simply saying "hello" matters. This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to create a sense of belonging. [10] Be sure to use each person’s preferred name. 

2. Become friends with and spend time with people different from you. Look for opportunities both inside and outside of church to make new friends. Our own sense of belonging is strengthened by accepting others. Just as Christ reached out to the Samaritans of His day, we can reach out to those with different beliefs, traditions, and values.

3. Listen with empathy to other people’s experiences and struggles. Encourage others to share their stories and be willing to share your own mistakes and failures as well as your successes.

4. Greet people as they enter for any type of gathering. This could be a classroom, chapel, or other room where a community meeting is held. Let people know how glad you are to see them and be with them. These simple acts help people feel more welcome and connected to the group.

5. Allow everyone the opportunity to participate. Studies have found that even with a well-paying job, if people do not feel that they are making a contribution, they seek employment someplace else. [11] Feeling you are an asset is important. An invitation to participate always expresses value to an individual and gives purpose and meaning to being part of any group. But do not pressure someone who does not want to. 

6. Be aware of the cues we are sending to others. We consistently give cues as to who belongs and who does not. This is especially true in a ward congregation. We need to see representations of ourselves no matter where we are along the path. When the stories and examples we hear include people like ourselves, it signals that we are important, welcomed, and valued regardless of our differences and struggles.


 NOTES:

[1] 1 Corinthians 12

[2] F. Uchtdorf, Address to Salt Lake Inner City Mission, December 4, 2015, https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/president-uchtdorf-transcript-salt-lake-inner-city-mission#_edn10

[3] President Henry B. Eyring, “My Peace I Leave with You”, General Women’s Conference, March 25, 2017 

[4] Maxwell Huppert, “Employees Share What Gives Them a Sense of Belonging at Work” Oct 25, 2017 https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/company-culture/2017/employees-share-what-gives-them-a-sense-of-belonging-at-work

[5] Gilliam M. Sandstrom, Elizabeth W. Dunn, “Is Efficiency Overrated?: Minimal Social Interactions Lead to Belonging and Positive Affect” September 12, 2013, Social Psychological and Personality Science

[6] Create a Sense of Belonging  Finding ways to belong can help ease the pain of loneliness. Karyn Hall Ph.D. Posted Mar 24, 2014, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201403/create-sense-belonging

[7] Ibid

[8] Karyn Lewis, “Building Students’ Sense of Social Belonging as a Critical First Step, March, 2016 https://educationnorthwest.org/northwest-matters/building-students-sense-social-belonging-critical-first-step

[9] Video, “Is There a Place for Me?” Elder D. Todd Christofferson https://www.lds.orgmedia-library/video/2016-03-0020-is-there-a-place-for-me?lang=eng#p3s:1170&p3e:232330

[10] Mary Beth Hewitt, “Helping Students Feel They Belong”, Issue 101 June 2007 CYC-Online, https://www.cyc-net.org/cyc-online/cycol-0706-hewitt.html

[11] John Baldoni, “Fostering The Sense Of Belonging Promotes Success” Forbes, Jan 22, 2017 https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnbaldoni/2017/01/22/fostering-the-sense-of-belonging-promotes-success/#3b237d10f266

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