Sunday, August 7, 2022

Love

In answer to Tina Turner’s question, ‘what’s love got to do with it?’ It turns out, everything. Love matters; and whether you realise it or not, it has a deep and enduring impact on your life.

We think and talk a great deal about love but can rarely agree about how to define it, or what level of importance to attach to it. While some of us view it as essential, others characterize it as fluffy sentimentalism.

The truth is: we’re biologically programmed to find other human beings the most important objects in the world; and to form attachments. This doesn’t mean that individuals can’t find happiness in solitude. After all, solitude provides us the opportunity to accomplish goals that can’t be reached in the company of others. However, research shows that our greatest happiness comes from our relationships with other people.

Even the most self-centered of us can readily appreciate the benefits that loving relationships bring. Think of how your family takes care of you when you’re sick; how they lovingly forgive your transgressions; the way they’re keenly interested in key milestones of your life; and the fact that they support you, regardless of whether or not you deserve it. It brings a greater sense of security and enjoyment to your life.

Close bonds with our friends and community are equally essential – after my father passed away last year, I felt a tremendous sense of loss; but between my extended family, my community and my friends, I never doubted that I was loved. It turned out to be an uplifting experience.

Love heals. Consider the study of adult development following 268 college men who’d had bleak and unstable childhoods. Eight of those ranked at the bottom were interviewed; and years after leaving college, seven of them continued to fail at life. By age seventy-five, all had either died or become disabled; yet one of them, Merton, was thriving! At age eighty, Merton was playing competitive squash and was an active member of his community. Despite periodic bouts of illness, he attributed his healing to the love he had received from caretakers, as well as a doting wife.

According to Harvard psychiatrist, Vaillant, loving attachments allow the severely deprived to heal; and “…sustained loving environments in adulthood can help undo the damage of childhood isolation.”

No matter how much you pride yourself in being independent, other people do matter. In the landmark report prepared by John Bowlby for WHO in 1950, regarding the mental health of orphaned children, Bowlby concluded that normal child development requires a warm and continuous relationship with at least one adult caregiver; and that “children reared in orphanages, even where their basic needs for food were met, suffered if they lacked the opportunity to form an enduring emotional bond.” Indeed, some of those children died from a lack of love.

Similarly, in 1965, well-known scientist, Harlow, raised some rhesus monkeys in complete isolation. After a year, the monkeys had become fearful and withdrawn, engaging in bizarre behavior and failing to interact normally. Later studies showed that these problems could be rectified if the deprived monkeys were taught to interact with monkeys that had been normally raised.

If you’re wondering what the experience of random monkeys has to do with you, the same has been found to be true in human children. Regardless of your starting point in life, you too can reverse the effects of early deprivation by creating supportive environments in your life right now.

Cultivating loving connections benefits everyone. It is not simply about ensuring that our material needs are met; such connections are necessary because as humans, we have an evolved predisposition to become attached to adult caregivers; and we suffer when this attachment is not met.

Yet many of us fear attachments. They make us feel vulnerable and we try to avoid getting hurt. Even if you are scared, remember that developing meaningful connections is one of the most positive ways you can increase your happiness. Nobody reaches their full potential in isolation.

It’s perfectly possible to make tons of money and gain prominence through our singular efforts, but in order to flourish, we must develop warm and trusting relationships, whether it’s with a spouse, close friends or family.

Jane Dutton, of the University of Michigan’s Centre for Positive Organizational Scholarship, calls such high-quality connections “life-giving.” They involve mutual appreciation and recharge your energy and vitality. You can pursue these connections through a number of avenues, including some of the following:

respectful engagement ÔÇô being present, attentive and affirming; or supporting what someone close to you is doing ÔÇô including by doing what you can to help them succeed. So next time your spouse or friend shares some good news with you, monitor your reaction. Do you dismiss them with a nod, or immediately start pointing out the pitfalls; or do you ask positive, affirming questions and demonstrate enthusiasm? The latter method, called Active Constructive Response (ACR), is responsible for many high-quality relationships. Practice ACR and watch your relationships blossom.

If you decide you don’t have time, or continue to respond to good news with one-liners, don’t be surprised if the intimacy in your relationships starts to dwindle.

Further, develop trust ÔÇô believe you can depend on someone and let it show. While this can be difficult, if you’ve delegated a task to your spouse, or to your child, count on them to deliver; don’t micromanage them.

Finally, remember to play. Allow yourself to be silly. It can be incredibly liberating; and allows unnecessary barriers to come down.

The most successful people will tell you that their success is made sweeter by having a loved one to share it with. Love makes us whole.

Yet it is not enough to be loved; we must have the capacity to receive and bask in that love in order to truly benefit. Moreover, we need to open our hearts and allow ourselves to love other people. Once we can do that, our lives are changed forever.

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