Baumeister and Leary suggest that “belongingness can be almost as compelling a need as food.” These authors suggest that the need for group membership also has evolutionary roots.
If secure attachment to a parent accounts for the need for survival early in life, affiliation to a collective guarantees protection against enemies, scarcity, and natural disasters. However, belongingness is not just a protective mechanism, it is also a means of flourishing. People form bonds for defensive as well as growth and fulfilment aims. There seems to be a natural inclination to seek memberships in collectives. Indeed, people are willing to invest considerable time and effort in forming and nurturing social bonds.
The need to belong to a couple, family, or group is evident by the sense of loss that ensues from separation. This is clear in summer camps, college graduations, retreats, conferences, or family reunions. People mourn the separation and promise to stay in touch.
Just as belonging is a powerful tonic for well-being, exclusion is noxious for health. As Baumeister and Leary observed, “being accepted, included, or welcomed leads to a variety of positive emotions (e.g., happiness, elation, contentment, and calm), whereas being rejected, excluded, or ignored leads to potent negative feelings (e.g., anxiety, depression, grief, jealousy, and loneliness).”