I think we all want to belong. I love the word. It sounds nice. It feels nice. Belonging—a warm, heavy blanket that wraps around us to keep us safe from the biting cold of winter. Inherently inclusive.

And yet, the definition of “belong” feels exclusive.

be•long [bih-lawng, -long]
1. to be in the relation of a member, adherent, inhabitant, etc.
2. to have the proper qualifications, especially social qualifications, to be a member of a group
3. to be proper or due; be properly or appropriately placed, situated, etc

One must have “proper qualifications” or be “appropriately placed”—like you have to be “good enough” in order to belong within a certain group, community, etc. Is it any wonder we writers stress over commenting and joining conversations when we haven’t been given the all clear or the special invite that says we belong?

About a year ago I was asked “what does it mean to belong” by a psychologist who was speaking to a group of us on William Glasser’s Choice Theory. (Roughly, it’s the idea that our perception of success is based on the choices we make in five main areas of life: belonging, power, freedom, fun and survival.)

I responded with “it means being a member of a group.” (Dictionary.com seems to agree with me.) He smiled and nodded and accepted everyone’s input, but his twinkling eyes and twitchy grin told me he was holding out on us.

Once the group had finished he said this, “Belonging is having people invested in you and you in them.”

Think about that for a moment. Let it soak in. I’ll give you a minute.

His definition blew my mind and completely changed how I interacted with others. It changed how I viewed my friendships, family relationships, religious ties, etc. It changed who I sought out to add to my life and who I allowed to stay.

The desire for popularity gave way to the desire for meaningful relationships.
People invested in you and you in them.

No “proper qualifications” required. No worries about “appropriate placement.” Belonging became less about the external do’s and more about the internal why’s.

Last night during our July Writer Party (aka Live Chat) we talked about followers: Do “followers” matter? Do you watch/try to improve your numbers? Suggestions to increase readership.

The consensus between all the amazing panelists was this: Social networking isn’t about having more followers but about supporting other people and making connections. The more you give the more people will give back (sgardn, 9:44pm).

People invested in you and you in them.

You want stark raving fans? You need to be invested in others. Want others to follow you on blogger, twitter and facebook? (And we’re talking REAL followers. Not those who click follow and never come back.) Then be interested in what others are saying and doing too. Interact with them. Care about them.

(TIP: Set a goal to improve one relationship each day. Just one. Whether it’s personal or professional. You’ll be amazed at the difference you’ll see in your quality of life just by reaching out to another person to let them know how awesome they are.)

As I closed down my chat window last night I couldn’t help but feel like I belonged. Gratitude overwhelmed me for these wonderful women who support and love me. A couple of them I see daily (or at least monthly). Some I’ve never met (yet!); we only know each other via blogging, twitter and now email. And I feel like they are invested in me. They talk with me, stalk my pages, offer support when I’m down and congratulations when I’ve succeeded at something. And I am invested in them. I care about what happens in both their personal and professional life. I have confetti ready for the good days and secret pocket ninjas ready for the bad ones (to take down whoever might be causing the problem!).

The point is, we all want to belong. We all need to belong. We need the protection and support of a few really good friends when the path gets rough and seemingly impassable. As Lydia said during our June Writer Party: “You have to stick by the people who you know have your back. Even if it’s only one or two people” (Lydia Sharp, 10:12pm).

You may not ever have 1000 followers. Maybe not even a hundred. But it won’t matter as long as the followers you are gaining are people who are invested in you and you in them.

That is real belonging. That is a true community.

What do you think? How do you reach out to others? How do you help them feel valued and loved?

If you missed the awesome writer party last night (aka Live Chat) about blogging, go HERE. Absolutely AMAZING chat with Natalie Whipple, Lydia Sharp, Michelle Davidson Argyle, Liza Kane, Sierra Gardner & Annie L. Cechini.