Another Epiphany: I Belong

Life’s a journey, folks. Today was one of those days of awakening.

As I returned home from swimming at the Y, my regular infusion of happiness and well being, , I found myself feeling, at a very visceral level, that I “belonged” at this Holyoke YMCA. With friends, family and neighbors dying, with my eagerness to get out and about diminishing, and my once sustaining professional work no longer filling my mind and heart, I really experienced the deep comfort derived from “belonging” at the Y.

When my favorite lap pool closed for two weeks, I was missing my freedom of movement and I said to myself, “Today, I’m going to give it a go anyway.”  With walker in tow I arrived as usual, and let my friends at the front desk know I needed help navigating myself to the less accessible small pool. I was welcomed and met at every turn by staffers who unlocked doors and guided me around the repairs.  After my freedom swim, they were ready to unlock the doors again and walk me back to the dressing room.  An additional bonus was a serendipitous chat with a woman who had lost 200 pounds and was working on her next 50.

When I left, I felt happy and inspired.  I noticed:  I “belong” here.

So, where did this come from?  

Since listening to Emily Esfahani Smith TED talk on The Four Pillars of Happiness, I am paying more attention to what makes me and my 75+ age peers fulfilled and happy, given that we experience no end of small and large losses as we grow older.

One of the four pillars in Ms. Smith’s research is “belonging.”  It’s true, the knowing that you share a bond with others is what really feels good. We might have that feeling with members of our families, our neighbors, in a support group, as part of a cause, a late-in-life mission, a faith tradition, with comrades,  intimates, at the Post Office, even at my local YMCA where likeminded folks gather to build health and stamina.

“Belonging” was never one of my goals when I was younger.  An independent soul, I was fully employed, active, married (twice), sure of my immortality, doing what I loved, living on the periphery of most groups to which I ostensibly “belonged.” I never acknowledged my neediness for others.  

Aging changes everything.  Now, a solo ager in my 80th year, I’m noticing that “belonging” is becoming a new essential to health, happiness and well being.    I suspect it’s so at any age.   But for those of us moving into a final phase of life where loneliness abounds, it’s something to which this late arrival to the human race needs to pay attention.

I thank the YMCA folks for prompting this morning’s conversation with myself and for the three questions which emerged:

  • “How can I contribute to the health of  the communities to which I already know I belong?” 
  • “How can I strengthen my bonds with people and groups that are nourishing to me?” 
  • “How can I improve my ability to give and take with those I care about?” (As in asking for what I need, receiving graciously, and offering my help appropriately… )

That’s it for today.   “I BELONG”… it’s a biggie!

Enjoy the referenced TED Talk.

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