I am currently a member of a book club, a vegetarian restaurant club, and a running group. (Okay, I rarely attend the running group, but I still get the emails and often at least consider attending.) As it turns out, my membership in multiple groups is a very good idea, according to a new study, which found that people who belonged to several groups also tended to have higher self-esteem.
Jolanda Jetten of the University of Queensland led the study, and she recruited elementary-school children, retirees, and former residents of a homeless shelter for her research project, asking the study participants how many groups they belonged to, what the groups meant to them, and how they felt about themselves. In each of these surveys, Jetten consistently found a link between belonging to multiple groups and self-esteem. (Though there’s a catch there, which I’ll get to in a second.)
The reason for this finding seems obvious — people who belong to lots of clubs or sports teams probably have more friends, which likely, in turn, makes them feel good about themselves. But that’s not what the researchers found. They also asked people about the size of their social network, and found that more friends did not predict higher self-esteem. Rather, the researchers only saw the link between group membership and higher self-esteem when people said their groups were important to their sense of self. In my case, that means my multiple group memberships will only improve my self-esteem if I start to fold them into the way I think about my own identity: I’m a reader, a vegetarian, a (sometimes) runner. Doing stuff alone is perfectly fine at times, too, but there are also some real perks to being a joiner.