What makes Mongolia the world's most 'socially connected' place? Maybe it's #yurtlife
So if you're feeling a bit ... disconnected from your fellow humans, you might consider taking a few tips from 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" was given a broad definition: family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, people from groups you're part of ... and strangers. So pretty much ... everybody.
Most countries did well. Overall, seven out of 10 people around the globe said they were "very" or "fairly" connected.
But Mongolians were the most connected of all.
Mongolia beat out Kosovo, Taiwan and Bosnia and Herzegovina among other top contenders to be named the most socially connected, with 95% of Mongolians reporting feeling very and fairly connected to other people. The highest rates of social connection for men – 95% – and women – 94% – were also in Mongolia.
Having reported from Mongolia in 2017, I was curious and reached out to some Mongolians. They were not surprised to be at the top of the list.
I had wondered if this high rate of social connection had something to do with their housing arrangements. Traditionally Mongolians have lived in gers, round felt tents covered in weatherproof canvas that suit a nomadic lifestyle. (Outsiders often use the word "yurt" instead.) There are a number of rules regarding gers, from how to enter (women step to the east and men to the west) to where to sit and which side the door should be on (the southern so it faces the sun and lets in light).
What there aren't ... are interior walls. A family of two or 10 (or even larger) may live in a single ger, explains Enkhtuvshin Shiilegdamba, a wildlife disease specialist.
"Mostly everyone sleeps on the floor making a big Japanese type beddings using mattresses made out of sheep wool, a felt mattress, and they all cook together on one stove, coal, wood or cow dung burning," Shiilegdamba wrote in an online message.
Even in the crowded Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar with its high rises and coffee shops, whole ger neighborhoods still exist. Finding your way in one of these neighborhoods is another thing entirely, at least it was when I was trying to locate a particular ger for a story in 2017. There are no street names or grid layouts, making maps and GPS basically useless. Instead, you have to rely on people to direct you. Social connections instead of Siri.
In more rural areas, ger life means depending on each other, with each member of the family, including grandparents, assigned a different chore, explains Shiilegdamba. Siblings often live in another ger just steps away.
"So the coziness of gers also create coziness in family connections and close relationships," writes Shiilegdamba.
This connectedness extends to neighbors and even entire towns and provinces. Those living in Ulaanbaatar like Shiilegdamba often maintain this sense of community, returning to their hometown most summers to take a break from their busy city lives and visit extended family, she explains.
A 2023 report on behaviors among Mongolian yurt dwellers in China in the journal Buildings takes it a step further. According to the study, Mongolian spiritual beliefs originate from the form 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 people's spirits, according to the report. The Mongolians studied living in gers showed higher rates of satisfaction than those living in urban housing, a finding the authors relate to the Mongolian emphasis on nature and freedom.
Gers enable Mongolians to maintain their close connection to nature, which itself leads to social connectedness, explains band manager Tuga Namgur.
"In order to survive in the wilderness as nomads we have to rely on each other," Namgur wrote in an online message. "Family is everything to my culture."
Namgur is a good example of Mongolians' close family ties, having for years managed the band his brother belongs to –The Hu. The arrangement was based on family and social connections and not physical proximity as Namgur has lived in Chicago for more than a decade while The Hu are based in Mongolia.
None of the Mongolians I reached out to were surprised by the Gallup findings. They know Mongolians are close; all you have to do is look at what happens when Mongolians leave their home for a few days or even weeks. Ger dwellers don't set a security alarm like many Westerners do. Instead, writes Shiilegdamba, "Mongolians leave the ger unlocked so the guests can open the door and serve themselves food and shelter to sleep as in remote areas if you can't go inside, you may freeze and die."
Thus, it seems surviving extreme weather may also have something to do with Mongolians social connectedness, which judging by the world's changing climate means the rest of us may soon be getting a lot closer.
And in the meantime, you can perhaps increase your own connectedness by purchasing a yurt tent from Amazon for $579.
Katya Cengel writes about interesting people around the world for Smithsonian Magazine, New York Times Magazine and others. Her latest book is Straitjackets and Lunch Money.
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