Thriving Together Series

Thriving Together Series: How to Foster a Sense of Belonging


By: Colton Goodman, Assistant Director of Residence Life for Residential Academic Engagement, Housing and Residence Life and Zareena Khan, Assistant Director of Student Well-Being, Center for the Advancement of Well-Being 

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” – Brené Brown, researcher, professor, and storyteller

Human beings have an innate psychological need to belong, and this intrinsic motivation to feel loved and accepted drives many of our social behaviors. A sense of belonging is not just a desire to fit in with a community. It involves feeling accepted, included, valued, and affirmed by others – and being able to provide that same support to others. Here’s why a sense of belonging is important, and how to foster a sense of belonging through social connections.

What is a Sense of Belonging?

This research study published by the National Library of Medicine describes a sense of belonging as “the subjective feeling of deep connection with social groups, physical places, and individual and collective experiences.”

At Mason, we define well-being as building a life of vitality, purpose, resilience, and engagement. An important aspect of well-being is deepening one’s sense of belonging, as well as creating and sustaining positive relationships and support networks. A sense of belonging is integral to experiencing well-being, whether at college, in the workplace, in a family, or in another type of community. 

Why is a Sense of Belonging So Important?

In one of the longest-running studies on happiness, Harvard researchers found that social connection is the greatest predictor of happiness and well-being. A study of college students found that individuals with a greater sense of interpersonal belonging had higher ratings of happiness and subjective well-being. They also had a reduction in mental health outcomes, including anxiety, depression, hopelessness, loneliness, social anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Additionally, employees who feel like a valued member of the team and believe that their supervisor promotes a “trusting and open environment” are more likely to feel like they belong.

Ways to Foster a Sense of Belonging through Social Connections

Connecting with others in social relationships is extremely important for general health and well-being. Each person needs a different amount of quality, diverse relationships. It depends on what makes you feel valued and supported. Here are diverse ways to build social connections that can give you a sense of belonging.

  • Express gratitude and kindness. The best way to foster connections is to lead with kindness and express gratitude whenever possible. Studies show that most people want to be recognized for their contributions. Never be afraid to thank people for what they have done well. Being kind and grateful is can help you build many healthy relationships with others.
  • Join a group or club. This may sound simple, but it’s significant. Connecting with people who have similar interests or hobbies (books, arts, sports, etc.) gives you something in common to spark conversations and build friendships.
  • Encourage inclusivity. We can learn a lot from each other. Whenever you’re in a social setting – in class, in a meeting, or at an event – allow and encourage others to share their diverse perspectives and knowledge. Listen with respect and curiosity, even if you disagree.
  • Embrace technology in positive ways. Technology can be a powerful tool to foster social connections, as long as you use it in positive ways. When you’re on social media platforms, for example, refuse to engage with negativity and instead spread positive messages that encourage others.
  • Get to know your neighbors. No matter where you live, take the time to get to know those living around you. Attend neighborhood or campus events to meet your neighbors and start conversations with them. This Psychology Today blog explains why getting to know your neighbors is important.
  • Volunteer to serve your community. What causes do you care about? What needs would you like to help meet? Find a place to volunteer within your community. There’s always a place that needs what you can offer. The Volunteer Match website can help you find opportunities in your local area. 

Opportunities to Foster Belonging at Mason

Our university offers a plethora of opportunities to connect with other Mason students. By pursuing opportunities that interest you the most, you can find a powerful sense of belonging here.

  • Apply to one of Mason’s academic-, identity-, or affinity-based Residential Learning Communities (RLCs). When living in an RLC, you can join like-minded peers to explore what you’re passionate about on a deeper level, connect to vital campus resources, and grow both in and out of the classroom. You’ll live together in a residence hall, which makes it easier to make connections within the Mason community. 
  • Sign up for a ProjectConnect Group at Mason. ProjectConnect helps Mason students and faculty/staff build a stronger campus community for greater social and emotional well-being. In ProjectConnect, participants will meet in groups of 4 to 6 people over the course of five 1-hour sessions and engage in a series of thought-provoking questions and fun activities. 
  • Join a group, club or organization. Our university offers more than 650 groups, clubs, and organizations. The easiest way to view all these groups is to log on to Mason360. You can meet fellow Patriots, discover events, and get involved!

Additional Resources

Enjoy these Thriving Together Series articles about social connections.

Discover keys to helping college students feel like they belong in this Greater Good Science Center article on belonging in college.

Read this Gallup article about a work culture of belonging to learn what drives a culture of belonging in the workplace.

Learn more about social connections and well-being in this Greater Good Science Center article on fostering social connections.

Write one of these Thriving Together Series features! We’re looking for contributions on all topics related to well-being. Read other Thriving Together Series articles here and contact us at for guidelines. Thank you for helping our Mason community thrive together online!