So if you’re feeling a little…disconnected from your fellow man, you might want to consider taking some tips from the Mongolians.
In a new Gallup report for The Global State of Social Connections, people in 142 countries were asked to rate their “social connectedness” – defined as “how close you feel to people emotionally.”
The word “people” is given a broad meaning: family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, people from groups you belong to… and strangers. So much … everything.
Most countries are doing well. Overall, seven out of 10 people worldwide said they were “very” or “fairly” connected.
But Mongolians are the most connected of all.
Mongolia beat out Kosovo, Taiwan and Bosnia and Herzegovina among the other top contenders to be named the most socially connected, with 95% of Mongolians reporting feeling equally connected to other people. The highest rate of social connection for men – 95% – and women – 94% – is also in Mongolia.
While reporting from Mongolia in 2017, I got curious and talked to some Mongolians. They are not surprised that they are at the top of the list.
I wonder if this high rate of social connection has anything to do with their home arrangements. Traditionally, Mongolians live gers, circular felt tents covered in weatherproof canvas that fit a nomadic lifestyle. (Outsiders often use the word “yurt”.) There are many rules about gers, from how to enter (women head east and men west) to where to sit and where which side the door should be (south so it faces the sun and lets in the light).
The left … are the interior walls. A family of two or 10 (or more) can live in a ger, explains Enkhtuvshin Shiilegdamba, a wildlife disease specialist.
“Most everyone sleeps on the floor making a large Japanese type bedding using mattresses made of wool, a felt mattress, and they all cook together with a stove, coal, wood or fire of cow dung,” Shiilegdamba wrote in an online message.
Even in the crowded Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar with high-end shops and coffee shops, the entire neighborhood still exists. Finding your way in one of these neighborhoods is another thing entirely, at least it was when I was trying to find a particular ger for a story in 2017. There are no street names or grid layouts, to make maps and GPS basically useless. Instead, you have to rely on people to guide you. Social connections instead of Siri.
In more rural areas, ger life means interdependence, with each family member, including grandparents, assigned a different task, Shiilegdamba explains. Siblings usually live in another ger far away.
“So comfort in gers also creates comfort in family connections and intimate relationships,” writes Shiilegdamba.
This connectedness extended to neighbors and even to entire cities and provinces. Those who live in Ulaanbaatar like Shiilegdamba often maintain this sense of community, returning to their hometown most summers to take a break from their busy city life and visit relatives, he explained.
A 2023 report on the behaviors of yurt dwellers in Mongolia in China in the journal Buildings takes it a step further. According to the study, Mongolian spiritual beliefs originate from the shape and atmosphere of the yurt or ger and influence behavior and values. The circular and dome shape of the ger serves as a symbol of the combination of religion and life while also concentrating on the spirits of the people, according to the report. Mongolians studied living in gers showed a higher rate of satisfaction than those living in urban housing, a finding of the authors related to the Mongolian emphasis on nature and freedom.
Gers allow Mongolians to maintain their close connection with nature, which in turn leads to social connectedness, explained band manager Tuga Namgur.
“To survive in the wilderness as nomads we must rely on each other,” Namgur wrote in an online message. “Family is everything in my culture.”
Namgur is a good example of close family ties in Mongolians, who for many years managed his brother’s band – The Hu. The arrangement is based on family and social connections and not physical proximity as Namgur has lived in Chicago for over a decade while The Hu is based in Mongolia.
None of the Mongolians I contacted were surprised by the Gallup findings. They know Mongolians are close; all you have to do is see what happens when Mongolians leave their home for a few days or even weeks. Ger residents don’t raise security alarms like many Westerners do. Instead, Shiilegdamba writes, “Mongolians leave the ger unlocked so that guests can open the door and serve themselves food and shelter to sleep like in remote places if you can’t get in, you can freeze and die.”
Thus, it seems that surviving extreme weather may also have something to do with the social connection of Mongolians, which judging by the changing global climate means the rest of us may be getting closer.
And in the meantime, you can add your own connection by purchasing a yurt tent from Amazon for $579.
Katya Cengel writes about interesting people around the world Smithsonian Magazine, New York Times Magazine and so on. His latest book is Straitjackets and Lunch Money.
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