find your tribe

How Creating A Community Can Make You Happier—And Healthier, Too

Where do you belong?

Do you feel like you have a strong sense of community, whether it is where you live or work, or with whom you spend time? I remember when moving from my small hometown to the big sprawl of Sydney, I felt completely displaced. It was finally through my work and my neighborhood that I eventually found my tribe, people who shared a similar sense of humor and common interests. It grounded me enough to stay in Sydney for some time, although eventually, as I changed within myself, I once again began to feel this disconnection from people and place.

Going back home to my small hometown, I felt the same: Although I had a few friends with whom I really felt connected, the greater community and way of life was at odds with my mindset. I was seeking nourishment from my environment to a deeper degree. I wasn’t learning and growing in the way I knew I could be. This seeking led me to Ubud, Bali, where I have found the community I need, where I have developed an amazing connection with like-minded people who motivate me to grow and who are there during the challenges.

The truth is, however, my sense of belonging has changed and evolved as I have changed and evolved, and this, I suspect, will always be the case. We transform and grow constantly—such is the beauty of this life—and as we maintain connections with people from our past and develop new relationships that will guide us into our future, this growth and change is when we are truly nourished by a sense of community belonging.

Today, I belong to my hometown, to my family, to the people who have come in and out of my life, to the people with whom I spend my days with now. I belong to this beautiful island home as much as I do to my Australian home. I belong where I feel connected. It is through finding my community that I have found myself.

So, why, exactly, is community so important?

We are social beings, plain and simple. Humans thrive in social interactions. Whether an introvert or an extrovert or somewhere in between, we all possess a need to belong to some kind of community, tribe, worldview or ideal. It is a universal yearning. Studies even indicate that feelings of belonging and connection are paramount to a person’s sense of contentment and mental health. And it’s not about how many friends you have on Facebook or in real life: What is important is whether you feel common bonds to any of those people, be it through shared interests, similar life experiences, a common worldview or a general sense of being on the same wavelength. Those recovering from depression, for example, benefit greatly from these common bonds, as a deep sense of support and acceptance from a few close friends will have a greater impact on his or her mindset than will a bigger, more anonymous group of friends.

Now, how can community enrich our lives?

Inspire and motivate. Surround yourself with people who are on similar life paths or are involved in activities you find inspiring: Doing so is a great way to draw motivation from others. Don’t we all have that friend, the one who we admire for her dedication to, say, health, who has helped us on our own journey? Now, what about the friend who is passionate about work: How can you channel that passion and knowledge in a way that motivates you to delve into your own work?

Wellness, family, education, professional, financial, spiritual: Whatever your goals may be, you will best foster your potential if you spend time with people who are fostering their own.

Identify mutual benefits. There is, in any good relationship, always a sharing of ideas and skills. Your bond to your community will not only inspire you in your own pursuits, but it can also actively help you further your goals (and help others further theirs). Opportunities for business may arise through connecting personal and professional networks. This can extend beyond the ubiquitous knowing a friend of a friend, and instead about leveraging the strong bond of community into ventures of entrepreneurism.

Another bonus: When you, in turn, help connect people to new and exciting opportunities, there is a feeling of reciprocal support that breeds confidence and contentment as you continue to go after your passions.

Be vulnerable. Knowing that there is someone (or a few someones) you can reach out to at any given moment is one of the biggest benefits of community (and necessities of life). Who is the first person you think of when times get tough? Is it someone from your extended circle of acquaintances, or someone with whom you have a close bond in your community? That feeling of deep acceptance requires vulnerability. It requires a deeper connection that just sporting an image or shallow expression of who you are. It requires honesty to yourself, and to others, to really reveal all those parts of yourself. You will be rewarded with this deep sense of connection to other through your vulnerability, and may even inspire others to be as honest as you are.

Learn and grow. When your tribe not only nurtures a sense of acceptance, but also goes beyond this to challenge you: This is how you will find personal growth.  It’s great to have friends that agree with all your ideas, but what about when they offer a different opinion that makes you think and perhaps influences your own beliefs? Or when you’re called out by your (sometimes not so subtle) honest family member who can see right through your nonsense?

Sharing skills, diverse beliefs, wisdom and experiences are all ways that we can help each other grow in community.

So, how to create community? It’s not about having a long list of contacts in your address book. Community is not a social circle. It is a bonded group where you feel a sense of belonging, support and acceptance. To create this in your own life, it requires you to give out these virtues yourself. Spending the time to work on your relationships. Supporting people personally, and perhaps professionally, when they need it. Actively taking effort to experience authentic conversation, asking questions about one another, learning about each others’ lives and sharing your own skills.

Community is about caring. When you care, and feel cared for, this is a beautiful place to live, learn and grow.

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