BY: T. Franklin Murphy | July 2018
The Bonds Essential for Happiness
A wave of pop psychology, suggesting happiness is paramount,often neglects the importance of others. We can improve the feeling states. But science is clear, rich and fulfilling lives include healthy connections with others.
We are not hermits, trudging through a desolate land. We live with and rely upon others. The human child is completely dependent, left alone he would die. This complicated world demands much more than an infant could survive. For a child to become successful, she needs more nurturing, education, and love than all other species. These truths are programmed into our cells, we not only need others to survive but also for happiness. Lonely and alone, we sense something is missing. We feel a hole in our life. Others are an essential part of a rich and fulfilling life.
Let’s be clear, needing others doesn’t suggest that any relationship can satisfy the longing. As many can testify, and as science supports, unhealthy relationships magnify sorrows, ignite anxiety, and create chaos. Our needs often remain unfulfilled while surrounded by crowds. We may be married; but lack closeness. We can have parents; but still need nurturance.
Ed Diener and Martin Seligman have dedicated their careers and lives to positive psychology, a departure from the traditional focus on pathology. In a study, they compared happy people with less happy people. The most notable factor that distinguished the one group from the other was the happier group had “rich, satisfying relationships.” Having meaningful relationships with friends, family, or romantic partners was necessary for happiness.
David Myers, a professor of psychology also intrigued with the positive psychology of happiness, narrowed the relationships down even further, zeroing in on romantic partners, “there are few stronger predictions of happiness than a close nurturing, equitable, intimate lifelong companion with one’s best friend.”
The need for companionship is woven into our cells. Deficiencies with attachment, not only interfere with succeeding with important tasks of living; but disrupt our balance and peace of mind. Emotions, as Colwyn Trevarthen (Child Attachment Psychologist) suggests, define a person in relationship to other persons. Shame, guilt and joy are not indicators of a relationship with self but of relationships with others, either imagined or real. Our most intense emotions arise in connection with relationships—falling in love, warmth of connection, loss of a loved one, or fear of abandonment.
"The need for companionship is woven into our cells. Deficiencies with attachment, not only interfere with succeeding at important tasks of living; but also disrupt our balance and peace of mind."
The need is clear, the evidence compelling, but the task of connecting is complicated and daunting. While biological driven to connect, experiencing painful emotional prods and pokes to bond, we often are confused with the complexities of others. When love is confused by the faulty models of our youth, and when adult experiences have exposed us to danger and abuse, we approach lovers with too much caution or perilous oblivion, leading to more broken connections, and incompatible partners, heightening our anxiety, stirring chaos, and leaving us more confused than ever. Some soothe the aching mind with protecting justifications blaming others and then hiding in solitude, denying themselves the richness of a fulfilling life. Others continue jumping in and out of unpredictable and dangerous relationships, hoping one day they will get lucky and find prince (princess) charming.
We must be realistic with what a relationship can provide. The bonds essential for happiness do not dismiss all other human needs. A healthy relationship helps to extract and magnify the joys of living from other aspects of our lives. A healthy relationship contributes to developing the skills for obtaining needs, security and meaning. But more importantly a loving companionship assists in joyfully surviving the full catastrophe of living with all the bumps, bruises and unplanned adventures. Our ultimate success depends on nurturing bonds with healthy others, learning proven skills, and patiently learning the greatness of the vulnerability of connection.