When you spend time with people who enjoy doing the same things you do—like playing music or dancing—the benefits to your body and mind just keep on coming. Connection leads to greater happiness. A sense of belonging boosts your immune system. And you can even reach a state of heightened consciousness called flow.
Many positive psychologists have identified relationships with others as the most important feature of a long and happy life. Dan Buettner, founder of the Blue Zones movement, believes loneliness is the greatest public threat to health in the United States. People who feel they are an integral part of a tight-knit group, on the other hand, seem to thrive.
So if you think you could use a little more connection and cohesion with other people, how do you get started? Here are a few ideas.
1. Follow your passions
Do you excel at chess? Love to run? Never miss an opportunity to watch classic films? Sometimes as we get older, we let go of interests outside of work and family. You may need to think back to childhood or adolescence to realize what your talent or passion is. Once you find that, let it direct you to a community of like-minded people or organizations that specialize in what you love to do.
2. Go with a friend
Do you have a friend who posts ecstatic photos on Facebook of her rock-climbing club? Are you intrigued by your neighbor’s involvement with the local community theater? Ask if you can come along to explore or look behind the scenes. Or investigate a new activity or group with like-minded friends; it will make it even more fun.
3. Venture outside your comfort zone
A great way to meet people is to stretch yourself by charting new territory, perhaps by trying something you’ve been intrigued by but afraid to attempt until now. You may end up discovering a whole new talent or side of yourself. When you show courage and grit, you are even more likely to bond with the people surrounding you. You’ll never find out if it’s for you unless you take the risk.
4. Start online, but take it to the real world
The web has made everything easier, including meeting like-minded people. You can find special interest groups and fan board for everything from Star Wars fanatics to knitting mavens. And Google is your best friend when it comes to finding any kind of activity in your area. But online groups can remain virtual and anonymous, and if you never make it out of your living room, you won't reap most of the benefits of belonging and connection that positive psychologists are so excited about. Meetup.com is a great place to start in terms of joining an actual community. Hashmeet is a new app that easily lets you start a new group in your area.
5. Join the congregation
If you haven’t been to your church, mosque or synagogue for a while, it could be time to give it another look. These traditional communities offer a number of group activities, from scripture study to community volunteering to movie nights or weekly potluck dinners.
6. Get physical
Doing a fun physical activity with other folks is a fantastic way to form social bonds. But the gym can be a pretty cold and anonymous place. Fitness programs like Camp Gladiator, SoulCycle, and CrossFit are a little intimidating, but they do break out of the typical gym atmosphere and inspire a kind of cult-like attachment in their members.
If you find a yoga or Zumba class that you love, be consistent—go week after week—and you will start seeing the same people again and again. The more you get together (and sweat together), the greater chance you’ll start to get to know each other.
Volunteering in a group is a bonding experience that can change your life, as well as the lives of those you help. In addition to congregations, above, and local schools, we've put together this very incomplete list of national organizations that offer group volunteer opportunities:
- Habitat for Humanity
- Volunteer Match
- Jewish Family Services
- Catholic Charities
- Meals on Wheels, USA
8. Take the initiative
Don’t wait for someone to invite you to join their cooking club or poker night—take the initiative and start one yourself! Call a few friends, put out a notice on Facebook and find out who might want to join in. Just because you started it doesn’t mean you are responsible for hosting every time. You are just kicking things off.
Emily Wise Miller is the web editor at Live Happy.