Category Archives: Something bigger

Why you don’t really have to be religious to feel part of something bigger

Some say having a religious belief makes you less likely to suffer from depression, and more inclined to recover faster from it if you do experience it.

However, when the research organisation Gallup looked at this in the United States a couple of years ago, their findings were less clear-cut than you might have expected.

While it was true that very religious Americans (those who rarely missed a weekly visit to a place of worship) did indeed seem less prone to depression and anxiety than those who said they were non-religious, this last group actually did better (ie they reported fewer bouts of depression and anxiety) than people who described themselves as only moderately religious.

Don’t you just love research?

Right when you think you’ve got a strong hypothesis, along comes the real world to confound your thinking.


It’s not for me to claim I understand what’s going on here, but I’m sure it’s a complicated old mix of cause and effect, along with what people tell researchers and what they actually do/think, coupled with lots of other factors too.

I’m not (really) religious but some of my best friends are, and I’m perfectly comfortable with this.

However, leaving religion to one side, I do still get the feeling that there’s something important about feeling I’m part of something that’s bigger than me.

It helps give me the feeling that I’m living a life of some meaning (an outlook that can be seriously undermined if I’m going through a tough time).

Where do you find meaning?

Well, without going into things too deeply, perhaps one easily accessible way is to actively work at getting to know the people around you better?

Developing empathy for others and allowing them in so they can reciprocate can help, I think.

If you want to feel cared for, caring for other people is a fine place to start.

If you’re very religious, you may have this already sewn up, but if you’re like me, it won’t hurt to try and get a little closer to the people with whom you come into contact today.

Not necessarily physically, of course.

I wouldn’t want to get you arrested.

The surprising companionship of a fire drill

There are nine million books in the Stanford University library, where I mostly work.

With so much paper sitting around on bookshelves, it’s probably very sensible to hold as many fire drills as they seem to.

Often when I’m there, though.


Sometimes, it can be quite nice to be forced to take a quick break.

At other times though, it can get kind of annoying to be torn away from what you’re doing, with no real idea of how long it will be before you can get back to your desk.

The drill last week was one of these latter occasions, when I was deeply involved in something, so much so in fact, that it took me a while to realise that the alarm was going and everyone was leaving.

Feeling slightly miffed, I shuffled my papers together and left the building, lurking around just outside the front door, hoping that it wouldn’t be too long before I could get back to my writing.

Generally it’s all pretty disorganised when people leave the building for these drills, but for once a Fire Marshall was present and he seemed particularly keen that everyone – including both staff and library users – should assemble in one place.

So slightly against my better judgement, I drifted over to the area where people were gathering, and actually ended up quite enjoying it.

The marshall was good.

He clearly explained what was going on, and made the sensible point that if a building is really on fire, it really is best not to hang around too close to it.

He thanked people for their cooperation, and explained why the university needs to conduct as many regular drills as it does.

And… for a few minutes, I felt part of something bigger than myself.

Although it wasn’t in any profound kind of way (it was only a fire drill) it acted as a useful reminder that it’s possible to feel connected to other people in quite modest ways.

If you’re feeling low, there’s no need to wait for a fire drill.

All you need to do is take yourself where there are are other people.

It could be a café.

It might be a talk of some kind, or a movie screening.

Even getting on a bus can increase that feeling of being part of some kind of community.

Next time you are in need of a lift, please remember the power of putting yourself in a position where you may get a reminder that you’re part of something bigger than yourself.

The therapeutic value of occasional tears

I may not know a lot, but one thing is certain to me: there are very few who go through life without a care in the world, never feeling anything less than A1.

In fact there may be times when every day can seem the exact opposite, when it feels as though the weight of the world is pressing down on you and you alone. When it’s been like this for me, I know how impossible it can be to keep a sense of perspective. I know how impossible it can be to maintain any degree of logic that might enable me to make sense of my situation. I also know that the tendency at such times can be to shut myself away.


Even if you can’t pull the real curtains tight, you can certainly do so with the metaphorical drapes, aiming to avoid engaging with others, and often making a pretty good job of it.

A theme that I’ve often returned to is the value at such times of being part of something bigger, but this can feel a complete oxymoron. How the heck are you supposed to connect to some higher purpose (which seems to imply being around others) when all you really want to do is sink into the sofa?

Maybe it’s at times like this that it can help to think about things that move you. If they do so – even if they make you feel wistful – it’s probably because they’re making powerful connections to your memories or beliefs.

Let me give you an example. There are certain pieces of music which make me sad: simply playing them brings tears to my eyes. However, although it may seem counter-productive, I find they’re at their most moving and helpful when I’m feeling at a low ebb.

Sometimes, getting sad when you’re already low can seem to help rather than hinder. Perhaps this is because it causes you to reflect on people, places or times that have been important to you, and this in turn becomes a powerful reminder of what, to you, is the meaning of life.

For me, it’s music. For you it may be a movie, or a book, or a poem. The important thing to remember, however, is that experiencing something evocative can sometimes help when all might seem otherwise lost.

The true value of a friend who helps you grow

When you tell someone that a bunch of keys belongs to you, what you mean is that they’re yours.

You own them.


If, however, you talk about belonging to a club, society or religion, it’s almost certainly not the case that you’d regard that particular organisation as ‘owning’ you.

You may simply mean that you’re a member.

But of course the word ‘belong’ can infer something more emotive than mere membership.

In my childhood, the television puppet pigs Pinky and Perky sang ‘We belong together’, in a way that I guess was supposed to suggest that their being together was meant to be.

I just discovered, by the way, that Pinky and Perky’s high pitched singing was achieved by recording, and then speeding up, the voice of Mike Sammes, whose group The Mike Sammes Singers – much to my astonishment – also performed backing vocals on The Beatles’ ‘I Am The Walrus’.

But I digress.

It’s often said that feeling you’re part of something bigger plays an important role in maintaining a healthy state of mental wellbeing, but rather than this necessarily implying that you have to be one of a large crowd of connected others, it seems to be more about the thought of belonging to something which is somehow bigger than the sum of its parts.

Whilst this could indeed be brought about by active involvement in some kind of giant religious, political or social movement, I think it can also manifest itself at a more modest scale when you and one other person have some kind of special relationship.

This could be through a life partnership – a marriage, for example – but it might equally come about through a close friendship with someone, one in which the two of you support and bring out the best in one another.

Pinky and Perky’s rather obvious strings would have made it hard for them to not belong together, but why not have a think today about who in your life either is, or has the potential to be, someone that makes you feel you’re part of something bigger when you’re with them.

Then, if this relationship needs a little tender care, don’t be afraid to administer it.

Why nature helps us feel part of something bigger, and why that’s good

Ah. Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.

(The hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the knee bone.)

Your body’s something special, you know.

Please note, I’m not coming on to you, merely pointing out that bodies are an extraordinary collection of components working together as one.

Broadly, we need most of the bits to operate as expected if we’re to be a living human being.

You’re more than just a thigh bone.

When you think about it, the way our anatomy works is not that dissimilar from the manner in which society functions, too.

Although we all work pretty well as autonomous units, our true potential is generally only reached when we’re part of something bigger, and this is often what gives our life meaning.

Sadly, if your mood is low (one of the times in life when it really can help to feel part of something bigger) you’re least likely to actually want to involve yourself in the kind of activities which this seems to entail.

So how can you be part of something bigger when you actually feel very small?

I’m convinced that one great answer is to get yourself out into nature.

A walk by a river or along a beach can remind you that there’s a big, beautiful world out there.

A stroll through a forest can promote a sense of awe when you stop to think about how long its trees have already lived.

Even some time in a garden or park can work, though, especially if you get up close and personal with a flower or shrub.

Study its form, breathe its perfume, wonder at its colours.

Some find their sense of meaning in formal acts of worship, and there’s much to be said for this, if that’s your thing, but taking a closer look at the world around you is another fine way to remind yourself that each and every one of us is part of something bigger.

Ready to talk? Let’s talk

Today’s post is about that comforting feeling you can get from knowing you’re part of something bigger than you. As I sat down to write it, of course it occurred to me that this probably isn’t something we feel when our mood is low.

At times like these, you (a) feel alone, (b) (perversely?) want to be left alone, so (c) often end up being alone.

All of this doesn’t exactly foster a sense of being something bigger than yourself, does it?


Let’s therefore try an experiment. My last post was about the power of knowing yourself. I mentioned Philipp Keel’s book ‘All About Me‘, with its multiple questions designed to reveal who you really are.

Now, as a reader of Moodnudges (for which I’m really grateful) you are of course already part of something bigger.

Our circulation is growing: it was 2,580 at the last count, still cozy enough to feel you’re not lost in a crowd, but big enough to represent all manner of views and outlooks.

So today let’s throw open the Comments section of the blog so you can bump into some of the other fine people who read these posts. How? Well, simply answer one question as a comment on the post – then/or feel free to chip in on others’ comments.


Here’s my question, then: What helps you most when your mood is low?

Hopefully we’ll kill two birds with one stone. We’ll share some great advice at the same time as giving a voice to you and the other Moodnudgers who make up our flourishing community.

What’s the ‘something bigger’ that you’re part of?

The average ant has a tough life. She (most are female) spends her life hard at work with little reward.

The thing is though, the majority of ants live in colonies with millions of others. More often than not they’re part of something bigger. Each has its role to play and although some must necessarily be expendable (hard to avoid those pesky humans and their big old hob-nailed boots) the life of the colony depends on the labours of the many.


We hob-nailed booted humans may consider ourselves superior to the tiny ant, but there are distinct similarities.

We may sometimes forget, however, that we’re all part of something bigger – the human race – and in fact there’s a great deal to be said for doing what we can to reinforce this sense of belonging.

When your mood is low, it’s easy to isolate yourself, to see yourself as disconnected from just about everything else.

For some, organised religion can form that bigger thing, but it could just as easily be your family, your community, your friends.

Ants don’t need to put much time into remembering what they’re part of, but as a human there’s no harm in doing so from time to time.

So what’s your equivalent of the colony?

A lesson from Martin Luther King Jr.: Doubt yourself, and move forward anyway

If you haven’t seen the new Oscar-nominated movie Selma, I won’t spoil it for you. But I will say that it showed me a very different, more vulnerable side of Martin Luther King Jr. that I hadn’t appreciated before.


He was tired from the struggle for civil rights. He doubted his own efforts. He thought long and hard with trusted advisors about strategy and messaging. He made painful mistakes in his personal life. He realized he was just a pastor from Atlanta taking on the President of the United States.

And yet none of this stopped him taking action. He drew inspiration from his beliefs and from the stories of people he was trying to help. He forged ahead anyway, letting his doubts accompany him but not impact him, and he ended up changing a nation.

Dr. King’s story inspires me today to keep going along my path even when doubts appear. Trust that I am doing what’s right and that it will work out. It’s not always easy, but it’s a great skill to cultivate for my emotional strength toolbox.

I hope this message supports and encourages you along your journey too.

With love and gratitude,

Feeling part of something bigger

Although it’s been twenty years since I officially worked in advertising (I continued with the occasional freelance project after I changed careers) I’m still a fan of clever examples of marketing communication and tip my proverbial hat to the writer, art director or designer of anything I see that tickles my tastebuds. I also enjoy reading books about my former profession, especially when they’re written by those I’ve always respected in an I’m-not-worthy way.

Since in my opinion John Hegarty is a genius ad man who falls into this category, I loved his recent book, ‘Hegarty on Creativity: There are No Rules’. Now, when someone’s as gifted as he is, you totally excuse them for a bit of own-trumpet blowing so it was nice to be reminded of a Levi’s press ad that was one of the first pieces of work produced by BBH, the agency Hegarty co-founded in 1982. The ad was for the jeans manufacturer’s new black denim range and featured an image of a single black sheep headed in the opposite direction to a herd of white sheep, with the headline: ‘When the world zigs, zag.’

That was it. No product photograph, no body copy. Just the suggestion that if you wanted to plough your own furrow, you knew what to wear.

However while I entirely applaud this sentiment, still love the ad, and in fact am often to be found in black Levi’s (who says advertising doesn’t work?) there’s a slightly uncomfortable side to going against the flow, and I suspect that if you, like me, are subject to the occasional blue mood, you’ll know what I mean.

By some horrid quirk of the human psyche, it’s often the case that when going through a rough patch you can actually feel completely disconnected from others in a way I’m sure John Hegarty never intended. Far from seeing yourself as a fad-defying individual, you’re likely to feel more of a reject, more of an outcast. A pretty unpleasant self-image.

At times like this, it seems to me that there’s value in – however temporarily – seeking out white sheep activities that can carry you along with the herd and make you feel part of something bigger.

I can find this kind of connection by simply taking myself to places where there are also others. So rather than work at home, I’ll take my laptop to a library or coffee shop. Instead of watching TV on my own, I’ll go to the cinema. I’ll seek out public talks where I can sit in an audience and feel less lonely.

It’s great to zag, and heaven knows, the world needs more original thinkers, more who want to create change.

When times are not so great though, perhaps we all need to find ways to zig?

The joy of being part of something bigger

That sinking feeling of being alone in a crowded room isn’t a great one, is it? Although I hope it’s not something you experience too often, it really isn’t unusual to feel this way, especially if your mood has taken a nose-dive.

For me it’s something I particularly encounter if I’m going through an occasional rough patch and am in the company of others, especially at some kind of social gathering involving friends or family.

You’re with people you love, supposedly on an occasion when everyone’s in high spirits and having fun, yet you feel completely detached from your surroundings, watching the proceedings as though through the kind of thick bullet-proof glass you’d expect a bank teller to sit behind.

I’ve been there. Perhaps you have too?

The paradox is that psychologists remind us that one great way out of depression (and a shield against it in the first place) is trying to feel part of something bigger than ourselves.

By this they’re generally saying that those who feel they live a life of meaning tend to enjoy better emotional health than those who don’t. I think they’d say such meaning might come through a religious belief, say, or being a parent, or doing a job which feels purposeful and meaningful.

But I’m pretty sure they’d also agree that it’s possible to feel part of something bigger when you’re around others – but only, of course, if you feel connected when you do so.

Every year in the San Francisco Bay Area, there’s an event called Maker Faire which was started by a magazine I’ve always loved: ‘Make’. The magazine is about building cool stuff like robots, machines and – for example – marshmallow cannons, and Maker Faire is a giant show celebrating arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself mindset.

Having always wanted to attend, it wasn’t exactly hard to persuade myself to visit the other Sunday and to say I wasn’t disappointed would be the understatement of all time.

Among a bewildering assortment of mind candy I adored the duelling remote controlled drones. I loved watching kids sitting cross-legged on the floor as they were helped to take apart technology, breaking open old digital cameras – prising the guts out of redundant computer hard drives to see what was hidden inside. I marvelled at a steam-driven printing press from the early 19th century, actually working. I lapped up a whole area given over to high school kids building robots that were battling rivals.

I felt energised by people’s unabashed enthusiasm and enterprise. I felt recharged and – yes – although I was there alone, I felt part of something bigger.

Heading off to some kind of big event like this when your spirits are low can be a calculated risk of course, but there’s no denying that it can sometimes make a big difference. Perhaps the trick is to ensure that if possible its theme is something you’ll find inspiring so you’ll be surrounded by like-minded others, even if you don’t necessarily connect to them.

So where might you go, then? And when?