Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Your Sense of Belonging in Modern Times

Considerations for schools, universities, workplaces, and communities.

Key points

  • The COVID-19 pandemic intensified and accelerated pre-existing problems for people's sense of belonging.
  • People's competencies, opportunities, motivations, and perceptions about belonging appear important for them to fulfill their needs.
  • A sense of belonging has strong and longitudinal associations with mental health and well-being.
  • Belonging should be prioritised by communities, workplaces, and institutions including schools and universities.

That human emotional urge to be accepted by others is referred to as the need to belong, also referred to as belongingness. This might include the desire to be accepted by coworkers or even feel included by other parents at school pick-up.

This blog article looks at how belonging is defined, its history, components, and the implications and challenges we face as a society in uncertain times: how can we show up and connect with others while still trying to prevent a hugely infectious disease (thanks COVID)? Read on to know more.

What is belonging?

Belonging is the subjective feeling of deep connection with social groups, physical places, and individual and collective experiences. It is a basic human need that predicts a variety of mental, physical, social, economic, and behavioural consequences.

Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Source: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

What is the history of belongingness?

According to several studies, the primary design of the human brain and immune system is to keep the body physiologically and physically safe by driving people to avoid social risks that concern social safety, connection, and belonging. As a result of this, a sense of belonging may be just as vital as food, housing, and physical protection in the long term for promoting health and survival.

How does COVID-19 affect the sense of belongingness?

The COVID-19 pandemic intensified and accelerated pre-existing problems. Early research into the pandemic's social and mental health consequences found an increase in loneliness and mental illness, particularly among older adults. Researchers speculated this was caused by prolonged isolation, social distancing, and growing mistrust of others. But the jury is still out. And while it is, we continue to be live through one of the biggest human social experiments of our time.

What are the components of belongingness?

My colleagues and I wanted to explore what ingredients help people to belong. As a practicing psychologist and researcher, I want to ensure that the decades-worth of belonging research out there can actually be useful to people. We undertook a meta-theoretical review and discovered four main components for people to consider if they want to nurture their sense of belonging: competencies, opportunities, motivations, and perceptions.

1. Competencies for belonging

Competencies are a collection of subjective and objective skills and abilities required to connect and experience belonging. Individuals' abilities to relate to others, identify with their cultural heritage, establish a sense of identity, and connect to place and nation are all facilitated by skills. Competencies help people ensure that their behaviour conforms to group social norms, aligns with cultural values, and respects the place and land.

2. Opportunities to belong

The second component for belonging is the availability of groups, individuals, places, times, and spaces in which belonging may occur. For example, the capacity to connect with people is meaningless if there are no opportunities to connect.

How does COVID-19 affect the sense of belonging in a person?

Human relationships may be made by active engagement in extracurricular organizations, schools, colleges, companies, religious groups, families, friendship groups, and hobbies. But, during the COVID-19 epidemic, people throughout the world overcame social separation by using various technologies. They were creative with online events, the use of video conferencing, and engagement in social media. And the side effect was that many people who had not been able to participate previously (due to social anxiety, shyness, parental home duties, disability, et cetera) could for the first time.

3. Motivations to belong

Motivation is the third component to achieve belonging. There needs to be motivation to want to belong. Belonging motivation refers to the underlying drive for humans to be accepted, belong, and seek social interactions and connections. As a result, individual characteristics and circumstances play critical roles in our understanding of belonging motivation.

4. Perceptions of belonging

Perceptions include a person's subjective feelings and cognitions about their experiences of belonging, closely linked to attributions and attitudes. An individual may have abilities, opportunities, and the drive to belong yet feel like their belonging needs are not met. Past experiences and events might influence one's perceptions of one's own experiences, self-confidence, and desire for connection. Whether consciously or unconsciously, most people assess whether they belong or fit in with others around them all the time.

Final Thoughts

As technology advances, social institutions shift, and cultural and ethnic values are challenged, emphasising that the need for individuals to establish and maintain a feeling of belonging is vital. Focusing on capabilities, opportunities, motivations, and perceptions can provide a valuable foundation for establishing initiatives at a school, university, workplace, or community level to increase people's sense of belonging at both the individual and societal levels. However, additional work is required to fulfill this framework's potential to benefit society fully.

Post note.

Read more about specific strategies to enhance belonging here: The Sense That You Belong Somewhere: The anatomy of belonging by Marianna Pogosyan Ph.D.


Allen, K. A., Kern, M. L., Rozek, C. S., McInerney, D. M., & Slavich, G. M. (2021). Belonging: a review of conceptual issues, an integrative framework, and directions for future research. Australian Journal of Psychology, 73(1), 87–102.

More from Kelly-Ann Allen Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Kelly-Ann Allen Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today