Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, it’s human nature to find comfort in community. From the individuals we work with, live with, or spend our free time with, we feel a sense of belonging among different groups of people — and science confirms this to be true.
Harvard scientists have found that being part of a larger group can help individuals feel happier and live more purposeful lives as they age. Similarly, experts from the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that community development can help promote well-being in a range of socioeconomic environments.
Even though research proves that being part of a community can improve our happiness and mental health, today, finding a community can seem harder than ever. While technology has allowed us to connect with like-minded individuals from across the globe, the ease that comes with connecting online can make it more difficult for us to make the first move in person.
“Finding a community that you connect with takes effort,” Robert Kraft, Ph.D., a professor of cognitive psychology at Otterbein University, tells Thrive. “But most of the effort comes at the beginning. After that, motivation arises naturally, along with joy.” Kraft says that taking the first step is often the hardest part, but once you find individuals you feel comfortable around, you can enjoy the benefits that in-person connection has to offer.
Here are four expert tips on ways to find your community, even if you’re naturally shy:
If you work in an office, start there
Working on a team means you already have a common ground, so it can be helpful to find community among your colleagues. “There is nothing more effective than working alongside other people on a common project,” Kraft says. “That builds community more quickly and more deeply than anything else.” Kraft urges us to grab dinner with our co-workers after completing a project, or suggesting a team happy hour to connect outside of the office. Even if you don’t identify as an extrovert, simply showing up to an out-of-office activities can help lead you in the right direction. “Just going is an accomplishment,” he adds.
Gravitate toward your passions
If you don’t have a traditional in-office job, or simply don’t relate to your co-workers, aim to find community elsewhere, and you’ll feel better about leaving your comfort zone once you share an interest with those around you. “It doesn’t work to force yourself into a group based on someone else’s preferences, so choose a group that your personality and interests align with,” Kraft recommends — whether that’s a religious group, a book club, an art class, or a political rally. “It’s important to join a group, even if you begin at the back.”
Ditch the group mentality
Kraft says a common preconception around community is the idea that you need to invite an entire group over for dinner, or befriend everyone on your block. Instead, Kraft suggests starting small, and befriending one person who you connect with, and the rest will follow. “Focus on one friendly looking person,” he suggests. “And don’t be afraid to make a big group smaller.”
Bring a friend along
It can be incredibly daunting to join a group full of strangers, so don’t shy away from bringing a plus-one to help break the ice. We tend to assume people already have their environments that they feel comfortable in, but chances are, other people you know are looking for communities to join as well, and they’ll likely appreciate the invitation. “Bring a friend,” Kraft suggests, “And allow yourself to leave if you feel uncomfortable.”
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.