Odds are… you don’t actually have much of a community. In fact, odds are good that you may have noticed the people you are close to are dwindling rapidly.
In fact: since the 80s, we have been increasingly disconnected from the world around us. Many people have no close friends at all.
It’s ironic that, at a time when we are more connected than ever, we are also more isolated than ever before. Despite the almost infinite number of ways to reach out to others, we are lonelier that we’ve ever been. We need more than just ways to stay in contact with people; we need to connect with them. Humans are social animals. We have a need to belong. We need a community, and most of us are drifting through life alone.
So how do you find your community?
No matter what anyone tells you, no man is an island. The idea of the rugged individualist may be appealing, but the fact of the matter is: humans are social creatures and we need other people. Coming together into groups is how we’ve survived as a species. Put a group of disparate strangers in a new environment and they’ll form a society.
It’s almost literally built into our DNA.
Which makes our modern, disconnected age all the more perplexing. As we get older, we actually lose our connection with the people we are closest with. If you’ve ever realized how many people from your life you simply aren’t in contact with any more, you’ve experienced this phenomenon. This disconnect has a distinct effect on your emotional well-being. Studies estimate that up to 70% of your happiness is because of your connection to others – your friends, your family, your co-workers and your community.
Small wonder we feel increasingly lonely. But that lack of a connection does more than just give us the blues; it’s actually deadly. Having fewer social connections increases the likelihood of heart disease, heightens the odds of having a stroke, suppresses your immune system and causes your stress levels to skyrocket. Being chronically lonely is actually as bad for you as smoking.
Men are especially prone to chronic loneliness. Because we are taught to only build an emotionally intimate connection with our romantic partners, we tend to isolate ourselves emotionally. We crave that connection, wherever we can find it, in whatever form we can find it.
Ironically enough, one of the most common ways we try to find our community helps the least…
Your Online Community Isn’t Enough
The paradox of modern living is that even as we get more connected to the world around us, we find ourselves lonelier than ever before. We spend literal hours on social media every day – up to nine hours per day for teenagers. We find ourselves sharing more and more of our lives online, spending virtual time with friends around the world – friends we may have never actually met in person. Our lives – including our social lives – are increasingly lived through tiny glowing screens.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not going to tell you that being stuck to our phones is inherently bad or that social media is the root of all ills. The friendships we experience and sustain through Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere are real and valuable and enriching.
What they aren’t, however, is enough to create that sense of community we need. Facebook may keep us connected with our friends and Reddit may link us up with people who share our outlook on life, but its not the same as interacting with people in the same physical space. There physical demands – and benefits – to in-person relationships that are literally impossible through Twitter or Instagram.
While there are definite benefits for the relationships and communities we form online, they can’t help us with our loneliness. When it comes to social interaction, virtual communities are the empty calories of socialization. They give us the impression of being social, but they simply don’t fill that need. You can’t be present on Facebook, the way you are in person. You can’t fill our need for simple physical contact through Snapchat.
If you want to find your community, then you need to stop looking online and start looking around you instead.
And the best way to find your community?
Find Your Community By Connecting With Your Passions
One of the best ways to find your community – or to find friends in general – is to look to people who are like you. Commonalities are one of the quickest and surest ways to connect with others; the more we have in common with people, the more likely we are to like them – and that they’ll like us. Having things in common sends the message that we’re of the same tribe, of sorts.
If you’ve ever been to a place where others liked the same things you did, where you had the same outlook and values as the people around you, you may have felt that moment of sublime relaxation. In that moment you realize: you are home.
You may never have realized that you were looking for it until that moment that you found it. But once you have… you’ll feel as though things finally click for you.
Even something as simple as being with others who understand how you feel can foster a powerful sense of brotherhood. Even negative emotions can bring people together. Part of what made Tyler Durden so appealing in Fight Club1 is that he taps into that feeling of existential angst and purposelessness that many men feel. The Red Pill and MRA communities are in no small part fueled by people who feel like they have been cheated from a birthright what is rightfully theirs. Knowing they aren’t alone – that others feel the same way they do – creates an instant bond with the others.
If you want to find people who think and feel similar to you, then you want to pursue your passions. Living in a way that aligns with your interests and brings you in contact with other people who love the things you love makes finding your community almost effortless. By putting yourself in places where your tribe gathers, it gives you a chance to connect to networks you might not reach otherwise. Going to conventions and social events, attending game nights, even taking classes that relate to your interests help bring you together with the people who are like you. Studying martial arts may seem like a hobby, but it can help you meet people whose passions may spark your own.
But even if you can’t directly link your passion to your lifestyle, there are ways to find your community. Throwing your energy into projects that benefit others – volunteering for political campaigns, giving your time to community projects, even simply taking part in local volunteer organizations can help you find your place in something larger than you, while making the world a better place.
And if you can’t find that community? Well…
Create Your Own
Sometimes it’s easy enough to find your community. It may be as effortless as finding a church that resonates with you and attending services every Sunday. You may find that fans of your favorite band gather every year at certain festivals.
You may join a sports team or a fraternity or a social brotherhood.
But sometimes you may look around and realize that there isn’t an existing community that you would want to be part of. And in that case, you have to be proactive.
You’ll want to create your own. In fact, in some ways it may be easier to start your own group and let it grow than to try to adjust to a group that’s a poor fit. Starting a regular get-together based around something you love – a tabletop gaming group, an amateur kickball team, a skee-ball league – makes it easy to gather like-minded individuals together on a regular basis.
What brings you together can be almost anything, though filling a niche will attract more people. One person I know wanted to have the best part of a convention – gathering at the con-bar after the dealer’s room closes – without the rest of the con. As a result: she created a no-con bar con – a monthly get-together for like-minded geeks to talk pop-culture over beers and cocktails.
Once you set it up, it can start to take on a life of it’s own; friends bring more friends, who spread the word to their friends.
But there’s one thing you need to do in order to keep that connection alive…
You Have To Invest The Time
One of the reasons why we lose our connection to the people in our lives? We don’t invest the time it takes to maintain those relationships. Time is a limited resource, and we are always having to gauge how to spend it. It’s incredibly easy to let your social connections fade without meaning to by not prioritizing them. It’s not always a conscious decision; we simply put more emphasis other things without realizing what it’s costing us. And before we know it, we look up and realize how long it’s been since we’ve seen our closest friends.
One of the things that drains that time away is simply the Cult of the Busy. Because we prioritize the idea of productivity, getting shit done and generally producing more, more, more, we let the rest of our lives slide. And while it is good to put in ass-in-chair time… treating productivity as an end in and of itself comes with the price of neglecting other aspects of our lives.
If you want to stay part of your community, you have to make it a priority – as important as being busy and productive. This can be difficult; everything has an opportunity cost, and paying it means sacrificing other areas. There simply is no introducing a new activity without giving up time from something else.
If you want that community to be a part of your life, then you have to consciously carve out time and maintain it. The easiest way is simply to make it part of your routine; every X day or other week, you give your time to this part of your life. It may be a weekly get together or attending a class. Or it may be making sure that you block of the same day each month to take part with your circle.
The best, and easiest ways to ensure you invest the time is to make it a regularly scheduled gathering. When you know for sure when you’ll be seeing everyone, you make a point of carving out that time. It’s harder to let things just slip away when you actively make time to go.
It can feel difficult to find a community where you fit in. It can be even harder to make the time to take part in it. But finding your tribe and a place where you belong can be one of the most important things you do for yourself. Fostering those stronger social connections makes you happier, more confident… and may even save your life.
This article originally appeared on Doctor Nerd Love
Photo credit: Getty Images