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“Building a community where we feel a deep sense of belonging requires a real and honest understanding of ourselves first,” explains Radha Agrawal, social entrepreneur and author of Belong: Find Your People, Create Community, and Live a More Connected Life explains. In other words, you must go in before you can go out.

She offers five steps to help you “find your people.”

1.  Make a life timeline.

Plot out your formative events so you better understand your motivations. List the cities you’ve called home, and add the schools, jobs, relationships, books, movies, and moments — whether big or small — that have shaped you. Rather than a linear chronology, let the shape of your timeline form from the flow of your memories. Invite input from people you trust and take time to sit with your past. “Recognizing all that got us here today and the events that shaped who we are will allow us to move forward with a clearer understanding of ourselves, what we want, and why,” Agrawal writes.

2. Take inventory of your values, interests, and abilities.

This will help you to better align with the types of community you hope to serve — and that can serve you, too. Human-resources departments often gather these sorts of personal insights to evaluate the fit of potential candidates for their organizations. Why not make this same assessment for your friendships and community?

3. Apply this self-knowledge.

Research up to 10 communities before narrowing your list to two or three you’d want to explore. Use online resources for research and perhaps to make initial connections, but think of them as stepping stones to your eventual interaction with a three-dimensional community.

4. Seek out “five-sense friends.”

Paying attention to our five senses in all our relationships, not just romantic ones, is critical for belonging. “We’ve replaced our ability to ‘feel’ one another through our animal instincts and five senses with ‘judging our emoji game,’” Agrawal writes. “When all five of our senses are activated and firing on all cylinders, we feel happiest and most connected to one another.”

In seeking out five-sense friends, try to be one of those friends for others in your life, too. That means making eye contact, listening closely, eating meals together, and touching (with consent). This proximity to others means you’re close enough to get a whiff of each other’s pheromones — those hormones we secrete that are detected by others through smell, which can influence social bonds.

5. Positively participate.

Participation with a positive attitude is the ultimate key to belonging,” Agrawal writes. “You’ll feel the most emotionally invested and connected to others in the group by getting your hands dirty and offering your time and energy to enhance the community experience. The sweat and effort of doing something for the benefit of the greater whole will fill you with the most satisfaction and joy. This is also how people come to view you as someone they want to be around, know more about, and care for.”

This was excerpted from “How to Create a Sense of Belonging” which was published in the November 2022 issue of Experience Life.

Kara
Kara Douglass Thom

Kara Douglass Thom is a triathlete, freelance writer and mother of four. She and Laurie Kocanda are the co-authors of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom.

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