The importance of Belonging, Safety and Purpose
As human beings we are designed to be sociable, in a supportive environment and to have a purpose. We need to feel that we belong not only within our families, friends, communities and social groups but also as employees, patients, residents or citizens. We need to feel safe from hostility, cold, hunger, illness or failure. We currently all have increasing concerns about our own financial, psychological and global safety. Also important to us all is a sense of purpose whether through work, volunteering, caring for others, hobbies, learning or other activities. This gives us a sense of autonomy, agency, self-belief and direction in life. These things can also improve our resilience and are important to us all to achieve good health.
“Jobs, homes, and friends are what will make the biggest difference to improving people’s health”
Duncan Selbie, 2013
Safety is a state in which or a place where you are safe and not in danger or at risk. This may include:
- Having a home you can feel secure in
- Being free from cold, hunger and illness
- Financial security – having an income, being able to pay bills
- Psychological and physical protection from crime, bullying, violence etc
- Having clean air to breathe, green space for recreation
Purpose is “the reason for which anything is done, created, or exists”.
- We can gain a sense of purpose and being valued through work, volunteering, caring, autonomy and agency
- If we have no purpose we feel useless, feeling powerless, feeling pointless, a lack of control
Belonging is “a feeling of being happy or comfortable as part of a particular group and having a good relationship with the other members of the group because they welcome you and accept you: A sense of belonging is one of humanity’s most basic needs.”
- Belonging involves friendship, intimacy, trust, acceptance, receiving and giving affection, and love, attention, and support, and sharing some point of commonality
- The antithesis of belonging is loneliness and rejection
Lacking a sense of belonging, safety and purpose contributes directly to health inequalities. Estimates from the 2020/21 Community Life Survey show that among adults (16+) in England show:
- Most adults (95%) agreed that if they needed help there are people who would be there for them.
- 66% of respondents met up in person with friends or family at least once a week, a significant decrease from 2019/20 (74%).
- The proportion of adults reporting they felt lonely often/always remained similar to 2019/20 at 6%.
- Measures for life satisfaction, happiness and self-worth have decreased from 2019/20.
- 79% of respondents agree that they were satisfied with their local area as a place to live, an increase from 2019/20 (76%).
- 65% of respondents agreed that people in their neighbourhood pull together to improve their neighbourhood; this was higher than in 2019/20 (59%).
- 41% of respondents have taken part in civic participation, 19% in civic consultation, and 7% in civic activism.
- 27% of respondents agreed that they could personally influence decisions in their local areas.
- There was an increase in the proportion of people informally volunteering. 33% of respondents had volunteered informally at least once a month, the highest percentage on record in the Community Life Survey.
In December 2022 we held a Thinking Differently Together event on Belonging, Safety and Purpose, chaired by Dr Will Bird MBE, Chair of Active Essex. and Dr Ed Garrett, CEO of NHS Suffolk and North East Essex. Click below to read our report of the event.