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Belongingness or the need to belong is a fundamental human motivation to have meaningful and satisfying interpersonal relationships. It is a pervasive need to develop long-lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships. It involves a need for frequent, pleasant, and stable interactions. 

The need to belong is an innate need. It is a natural tendency to belong to a larger group and enables people to experience companionship and have affectionate relationships. Human beings are thus, naturally and inherently driven towards belongingness.

The need to belong enables people to seek out interpersonal relationships to develop social bonds and a certain level of relatedness. People have a pervasive drive to develop strong social bonds. They also resist losing attachments and breaking social bonds. They are strongly motivated to seek out positive social interactions and avoid interactions that are conflictual or involve negative affect. If individuals are in any relationship that is based on mutual care, and they have frequent pleasant interactions with other people, then they are likely to experience a sense of belongingness.

Belongingness can be associated with what is known as the sense of community. The sense of community or the psychological sense of community is the strength of bonding that individuals have with community members. It involves a feeling of similarity and interdependence with others. Having a sense of community gives the feeling of belonging to a larger social structure.

The feeling of belongingness and sense of community occurs due to the experience of social support. Social support is the feeling or experience of being cared for, helped, esteemed, and valued by others, and that one belongs to a supportive social network. Social support has been found to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It is also beneficial for an individual’s physical health.

Belongingness, on the whole, gives a sense of integration and the feeling of being connected with others. It gives a sense of coherence as well as meaning in life. A lack of belongingness, on the other hand, gives a sense of confusion, uncertainty, and a feeling of being left out and unwanted. The feeling of not belonging can be linked to feelings of worthlessness, self-doubt, isolation, and sadness. It also gives a feeling of severe deprivation, and lowered physical and mental health, including loneliness.

The changing lifestyles of individuals, especially in urban settings, have been found to be one of the reasons for people experiencing a lack of belongingness. Individuals are now becoming more achievement-oriented and are being guided by consumerism. The goals of people are becoming more individualistic and moving away from being relationship-oriented. These are the usual characteristics of urbanism, which leads to people having poor social support, a lack of connections, alienation, a disconnect from society, and a sense of meaninglessness.      

The fast-paced lifestyle of urban settings does not make people realize that they have been unable to develop strong social bonds. As time passes by, the low sense of community and a lack of belongingness makes them experience loneliness. This eventually starts developing an emptiness and a sense of meaninglessness within individuals, giving rise to a state of confusion, making them become directionless.

The changing lifestyle of being highly achievement-oriented and guided by consumerism making people more individualistic is in complete contrast to what human nature is all about. Humans have evolved to be in groups and have meaningful social interactions. Due to this, the need to belong largely remains unfulfilled.

The need to belong being unfulfilled is making people spend more and more time on the internet. It is making people to get into using social media. Social media are usually used for interacting with others and developing networks. This usage of social media has made the internet turn into an online community or virtual community. The features of any community such as sharing, bonding, having common interests are found on the internet, which is why psychologists have started to refer to the internet as an online community.

In an online community, members have shared goals, needs, interests, and activities that make people feel that they belong to the community. The members of an online community engage with each other, have intense interactions, and share strong emotional ties. There is also reciprocity of information and a sense of social support.

Researchers have found that the sense of community that individuals experience in an online community is the same as any other community that they may belong to. In the online community, people engage in supportive and sociable relations and are able able to develop strong interpersonal feelings of belonging and being wanted. They are also able to develop a sense of shared identity. Additionally, the online community has been found to fulfill affective needs as well as personal and social integrative needs, which people somehow are not able fulfill due to the adoption of the consumerist lifestyle.

Over the past few years, therefore, it has been found that the belongingness need that somewhere is not being able to be fulfilled in the physical world, due to the changing times, is now being fulfilled in the virtual world, by being part of online communities. The major advantage of online communities are that they transcend geographical distance and social status boundaries. It is ironic, however, that alienation in the physical world makes people come to the virtual world to experience a sense of belongingness. 

The changing lifestyle of individuals has made people move away from each other in the real world, but the unfulfilled need for belongingness makes them spend more and more time on the internet. This raises concerns about how social interactions are becoming restricted to laptops and mobile phones, and the experience of meaningful face-to-face interactions are becoming more of a rarity. Even though, as per researchers, being part of the online community fulfills the need to belong, it is significantly changing the nature of interpersonal and social interactions.

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. I also conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India

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