My brother, Larry Fabulous, was born when I was 10. When he was old enough to learn, “Mine!” I would play a game with him. I’d grab Mom and say, “My mommy!” He’d say, “No, MY mommy!” The other day, Larry sent the family a photo of a menu. He was eating breakfast at a restaurant in Puerto Rico, where he took Mom last winter. A week ago, he visited La Chocolaterie de Monaco, where he’d taken Mom for the best hot chocolate in the universe a few years ago. The desk where writing this blog is next to the antique secretary where Mom works on her photo art when she visits, and later today I’m going to a coffee shop I’ve visited with Mom, Larry and our sister Keri. Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. You add atmosphere even when you’re not in the room.
My brother is a tour guide who awakens in a different town every week. Every few days, he meets 20-300 new people and takes them on an adventure. It’s his dream job, and his guests adore him. He’s even developing a few friendships, as people request him again and again. Nearly everyone who comes on a Dreamtrip brings a companion. New places are exciting, but humans have a tendency to feel lonely if we can’t share the excitement with someone to whom we “belong.” We’re less shy entering a new situation with someone who already understands and accepts us. It’s like carrying a witness that back home, people find us competent and interesting. When we return home, we have this same witness proving the vacation was real, and our partner will share the memory in a way no one else can.
In your survey responses, you shared words related to your sense of belonging:
Laughter, fun, acceptance, welcoming, respectful, positive, cooperative, appreciate, laugh, love, consistency, respect, support, loving, encouraging, sincere, happy, energize, focus, comfort, create, understand, inspire, hug, accept.
These words are so warm and fuzzy, I had to crank the A/C. Thank you for sharing them, and for including me in your day.
What does it feel like to be a tour guide, traveling on your own and continuously interacting with people you don’t know? Does Larry get lonely and unhappy? Not often. Does that mean he doesn’t need anyone close? Does it mean strangers fill the need for belonging as well as loved ones? Gillian Sandstrom and Elizabeth Dunn asked that question in a paper published in the July 2014 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. They talked to 53 adults over the age of 25. They assessed them to make sure the study included a good variety of personality types. Then they gave participants 2 clickers. For six days, participants clicked one for each interaction with “strong ties”—people with whom they had a close relationship. They clicked the other one for each interaction with “weak ties”—acquaintances, service personnel and the like.
When participants had a high-interaction day, they generally felt a stronger sense of belonging. That didn’t necessarily add to their happiness, though. Happiness was increased by high levels of interaction with strong ties. My brother has found a way to be extremely happy in both groups. He nurtures his strong ties, but he also strengthens his weak ties to make the interactions more enjoyable. In the process, some “weak tie” encounters have developed into long-term friendships.
As more of us travel for work or spend our spare time finding new people to buy our products, we could use some of Larry’s tips to make sure we nurture our own happiness.
- Find things you enjoy and share them. Why this works:
- You’re more attractive when you’re enjoying yourself.
- When you share, you inspire a natural reciprocation in others. When people share, they feel valuable. When they feel valuable, they relax and connect. In an article about building a sense of belonging on the job, Root, Inc. says, “When people don’t feel like they belong, they spend most of their time trying to create value for themselves (to validate their personal value to the group) rather than build it for their team or their organization.” This applies to interactions away from work as well. It’s much more fun to be with people who are comfortable enough to contribute.
- Pretend you’re the other person. Not literally, because that would be creepy. But think about what they might enjoy. Larry does this better than most of us, but that’s because he practices. Why this works:
- Being understood and appreciated give us a strong sense of belonging. People open up on a deeper level when you show understanding.
- If you get no response or even rejection, you can still feel the power of being a generous, caring person. Don’t be defensive about it. Nobody connects with everyone.
- Nurture your strong ties. There is no replacement for long-term peeps. They get us, enjoy us, put up with us and challenge us. How this works:
- Frequent mini-communications. If you pass a sign that reminds you of a friend, send a photo of it or text the wording. If your mom likes Tom Kha, and you found a delicious Thai restaurant in the town you’re visiting, say, “Hey, Mom! I thought of you.
- Talk once in awhile. If you’re not much of a talker, use Skype® or Facetime®. You can show each other what you’re up to, share a real moment of connection.
- In-person experiences. My brother has friends all over the world, but occasionally they’ll join him for a vacation. The places they visit become colored with good memories. When they’re gone and Larry returns with a tour group, those places feel like home. Dreamtrips are a great way to explore the world with your loved ones. If you’d like to know more about the rewards of membership, let me know.
Thank you again for participating in the survey. I enjoy writing, but it’s much more fun knowing you’re out there. If you feel lonely or have relationships that are faltering, I’d love to pray for you. Send me a message or use the comment box below.