Isn’t it exciting when someone invites you to a party?
Don’t you start feeling all warm and fuzzy inside anticipating how much fun you’re going to have?
You know what my reaction is when someone says, “Hey, I’m just going to meet a few friends for drinks later. Do you want to join?”
I’m already jumping up and down in excitement, going “yes, yes, yes, yes,” before they’ve even finished the sentence (all inside my head, of course).
In fact, one of the first things I do when I travel to a new place is finding a co-working space or a cafe where I can meet interesting people and get to know their story.
In a way, we are all looking for that — connections and relationships with other people. Seeking the company of others like us seems to be the defining feature of being human.
Finding happiness through building connections
Feeling that we belong, whether in our family or even in a group of strangers, influences how good we feel in that situation. It’s only when we start feeling like we are alone, that no one understands us, the negative emotions come bubbling up.
In this article on the importance of belonging, the author writes, “Belonging is primal, fundamental to our sense of happiness and well-being.”
Primal, like hunger or fear.
Fundamental, like food or life.
And I can’t help but agree with that, having experienced its primal nature personally.
When I was working as a nurse practitioner in Arizona, I had become so used to working 80-100 hour weeks that I did not even realize I was missing out on a social life. I never felt I needed it because I was always talking with my patients and my colleagues. So when I started to feel like I was burning out, I did what we all do — I took off on vacation.
It was fun and energizing while it lasted, but when I came back to my job the week after, it was like I had never left. Everything came at me with double the intensity, and I was right back at the edge of overwhelm.Looking back, I realize that although I was meeting and talking to many different people back then, I never “belonged” there. Don’t get me wrong, I was very good at my job as a nurse practitioner. But I never felt a deep connection with any of them (except for a few friends I made). It just wasn’t a place where I could be myself.
Of course, it was better than being completely isolated from everyone, but I had not realized how much of what goes on inside my head is directly influenced by what goes on around me.
Who you surround yourself with is who you become
Or as Jim Rohn put it, “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
In the high-pressure, urgent environment of the community health center where I worked, everyone was always rushing from one thing to the other. There was always something that needed to be done (like, yesterday) and hardly enough time to even eat lunch.
That was a big problem for me.
I have always been susceptible to anxiety and panic attacks (serious enough to need medication), and my work environment was making it even worse. Constantly feeling like I was under attack, not getting enough sleep or exercise, having to survive on junk food was starting to take its toll on me. I was so overwhelmed that I feared I’d drown in it.
It was only after I quit my job and went to Japan on a one-way ticket that my environment shifted. Sure, I was nervous because I didn’t know the language (although I was learning it), the culture was totally unfamiliar, I didn’t know what the future held for me, but I was never under the constant attack that I had been. Spending time away from the tense, high-pressure environment of my job helped calm my nerves.
In fact, the lovely people of Okinawa are famous for their chilled out attitude toward life and are among top 5 places in the world with the highest life expectancy. They are extremely polite, especially toward foreigners. The peaceful, unstressed environment started to have a positive effect. I was becoming a little bit like the Okinawans.
But you don’t have to fly to Japan on a one-way ticket to start changing the people you surround yourself with.
The truth is, even though Japan was a positive change of environment for me, I still did not find a sense of belonging there.
Building deeper connections … over the internet?
I know, it sounds dubious.
If you’re searching for deeper connection, the internet is probably the last place you’d think of. Facebook, Instagram, and whatever else you might think of as social media has completely changed how we see friendships and relationships.
But it can facilitate building deep connections if we know how to use it to our advantage.
When I was in Japan, I realized I wanted to keep traveling long-term, but I was running out of money. So I started searching for ways to make money while traveling and that’s when I discovered a group of people who called themselves “digital nomads.”
Back home, in Arizona, no one would have understood if I had told them that I wanted to keep traveling and never go back to a regular job. For them, traveling to foreign countries was just something you did on vacation or when taking a break from work. It wasn’t “real life.”
The digital nomads, on the other hand, were not only living in foreign countries, traveling to a new one every few weeks (or months), but they were also making money while they were doing all of this.
I mean, it completely blew my mind. I was like, “Holy s**t, there are real people actually doing this?”
That’s when I came across Digital Nomad Academy, a place where others came to learn how to do this whole digital nomading thing. And it was in this community of amazing people that I found my inspiration, built friendships and deep connections, and finally felt that I “belonged.”I feel joy and excitement whenever I am around people like these. Many of these people have now become my friends, my mentors. By aspiring to be like them and surrounding myself with them, I too became a “digital nomad.” I have traveled to seventeen countries and lived in ten in the last three years, and now make a full time living online. I still can’t believe that I am living this lifestyle!
It’s your responsibility to build and nurture the connection
I honestly believe that building deep, meaningful connections with people you want to be surrounded by is the best way of transforming your life.
Finding that sense of belonging is indeed fundamental to inviting more happiness and abundance into your life.
The people you want to be surrounded by may not be digital nomads (who, by their very nature, hang out on the internet). You may not know if the group of people you are looking for even exists. But to truly find those people who can become your close confidantes and friends, the people who will have your back no matter what, you will need to do some hard work.
It may take you weeks to even find the people you want to be surrounded by. You will certainly need to join different communities and see what resonates with you and what doesn’t. It may even take you months (or years) to find that first true friend. But it’s not just a matter of finding them. You have to work hard to nurture that relationship.
The deep connection that brings true happiness and abundance comes from contributing meaningfully to improve the lives of the people you want to be surrounded by.
There are thousands of communities out there to look into and hundreds of ways to give back. But I will leave you with one tip that will serve you no matter which group of people you find that sense of belonging with — always be vulnerable. That’s how every meaningful relationship starts.
PS – If you want to learn more about being vulnerable, watch this beautiful TED talk by Brene Brown.