Be­long­ing mat­ters

The need to be­long and stay con­nected to oth­ers is as im­por­tant to stay­ing well as diet and ex­er­cise


vAs so­cial be­ings, we all need to feel that we be­long. In­clu­sion in a com­mu­nity helps nur­ture feel­ings of safety and se­cu­rity, but we also learn a lot from groups. Lit­tle ones learn val­ues from peo­ple around them plus norms of how to be­have and fit in. They gain the knowl­edge they need to suc­ceed in the group through this ‘so­cial­i­sa­tion’ and in hu­man devel­op­ment, healthy so­cial­i­sa­tion is a strong pre­dic­tor of fu­ture health and hap­pi­ness.

Of course, things don’t al­ways go to plan. Peer pres­sure can lead young­sters to en­gage in un­healthy be­hav­iours in or­der to fit in. It’s all driven by the ‘them and us’ re­sponse - a vari­a­tion on the ‘fight-or-flight’ stress re­ac­tion - which causes groups to bond to­gether against out­siders.


So, what can par­ents do to in­flu­ence the be­hav­iours and val­ues their chil­dren adopt? Ju­dith Rich Har­ris, au­thor of The Nur­ture As­sump­tion, rec­om­mends that par­ents work to­gether to agree how they will shape their chil­dren’s val­ues and as­pi­ra­tions col­lec­tively, in tune with the need for com­mu­nity.


Re­search shows that so­cial iso­la­tion and an un­met need for com­mu­nity, drives up the risk of peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing de­pres­sion or anx­i­ety. But how do we know when we’re at risk?

Feel­ings of lone­li­ness are na­ture’s way of telling us that a need is un­met, whether for com­mu­nity, emo­tional con­nec­tion or the giv­ing and re­ceiv­ing of at­ten­tion. All too of­ten, how­ever, we don’t act un­til our emo­tional well­be­ing is af­fected. For ex­am­ple, in­flam­ma­tion, re­cently iden­ti­fied as a symp­tom which of­ten ac­com­pa­nies de­pres­sion, can cause us to feel the need to re­treat into a safe place where we can re­cover. But by re­treat­ing, we risk iso­lat­ing our­selves fur­ther when con­nect­ing up to oth­ers might be the best way to help us re­cover from phys­i­cal and men­tal ill health. www.quay­


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