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Why Do We Long to Belong?

The great humorist Groucho Marx once quipped, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” That’s funny, but it also says something profound about the social aspect of belonging to an organization. So, why do people participate in clubs, on teams, in organized religions or other types of groups? What is it that we’re looking for when we join with others and form a community?

In an attempt to answer the question of what motivates people, American psychologist Abraham Maslow created a hierarchy of needs. His five-stage model includes biological and physical needs, the desire for safety, cognition and self-esteem —  and the need for love and belonging.Student talking over the book content

Being part of something bigger. Belonging entails the need to find a place for yourself in this vast universe and to connect to others in a meaningful way. For many people, being part of a group (or many groups) is a way to satisfy this need.

Safety and power. Since the early days of mankind, humans banded together in groups to increase their odds of survival and to protect themselves. Consider modern examples, such as armies, agangs or neighborhood watch committees. Joining a group out of a sense of weakness or powerlessness can also be a way to gain power and influence — one reason someone might have for affiliating with certain social or political organizations.

Sense of identity. People often join groups that reduce their uncertainty about their identity or their place in the world. Religious institutions can help satisfy that need. Increased self-esteem may also arise when the person feels accepted by the group.

Common interests. Connecting with people who share your interests is one of the most common ways to achieve a sense of belonging. From sports teams to book clubs and chambers of commerce to yoga classes — there’s virtually no end to these kinds of groups.

Benefits. Some people may join an organization to gain the benefits it provides. One of the reasons people become members of a credit union is because it’s different from other financial institutions. Credit unions are democratic, member-owned cooperatives where members have a say in how their credit unions are run. Members may also enjoy a shared sense of purpose with their credit union’s commitment to community and social mission of people helping people.

To what groups do you belong — and why?