“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” – Professor Brene Brown, University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work
Network. Network. Network. Every person knows the benefits of networking for expanding your career prospects. Emails, chats, cooperate events, dinner, coffee and phonecalls. But do we place the same emphasis and importance in our personal lives? Sometimes we can forget that our social interactions are a powerful source of happiness. We are social animals. Our relationships build a sense of belonging and self-worth. Strong relationships with family and friends allow us to share our feelings and know that we are understood. They provide an opportunity to share positive experiences, and can give us emotional support. A holiday, a birthday or special time enjoyed with close friends and family is not only a positive experience but also forms fantastic memories we can recall with a smile. But what about the many people we interact with on a daily basis – the barista who smiles and discusses the weather; the colleague who chats about your favourite TV show; the person experiencing homelessness who thanks you for giving some money.
Sociologist Mark Granovetter spent some time in the 1970’s researching the configuration of our social networks. Granovetter suggests we can generally describe our relationships as “strong ties” or “weak ties”. Strong ties describe attachments or relationships we have with close friends, family members and close work colleagues. Weak ties comprise of acquaintances, those people you only see now and then. The chief difference here is that you do not have a particularly strong attachment with your weak ties or you do not see them very often.
In a study by Sandstorm and Dunn (2014), 53 adults were asked to calculate the number of people they interacted with on six different days. Using two clickers, they counted interactions they had with people they had close bonds (strong ties) and interactions they had with people they had a more distant relationship with (weak ties). All the participants were also asked to rate their sense of wellbeing and sense of community belonging. The study found that people interacted, on average, with 6.7 strong ties and 11.4 weak ties in a day. Interestingly, the number of interactions the people had day-to-day influenced their sense of belonging and wellbeing. On days when people interacted more with their “strong ties” (close family, friends), they reported feeling happier and felt strong sense of belonging with their community. On the days people interacted more with “weak ties” (acquaintances, colleagues), they reported feeling a sense of belonging to a wider community and it contributed a little bit towards their sense of wellbeing.
The interactions we have with other people affect the way we feel and experience the world. Our close relationships with family and friends help us feel supported, feel part of a community and support our happiness. Even our interactions with strangers, acquaintances and people we don’t know very well gives us a sense of being part of a larger community.