“Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies for love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
Many of us think and talk a great deal about love but can rarely agree on how to define it, or the level of importance to attach to it. While some of us view love 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 we can’t find happiness in solitude, after all, solitude provides us with 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 appreciate the benefits that loving relationships bring.
Think of how your family takes care of you when you’re ill; how they’re quick to support you; and the way they’re keenly interested in the major milestones of your life. The bonds you share with people closest to you provide you with a greater sense of security and enjoyment of your life.
Moreover, love has the power to heal! In a study of adult development that followed 268 college men who’d had bleak and unstable childhoods, eight of those ranked at the bottom were interviewed. Years after leaving college, seven of them continued to fail at life. By age seventy-five, all of them 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 illness, Merton attributed his healing to the love he’d received from caretakers, as well as a doting wife.
According to Harvard psychiatrist, George Vaillant, loving attachments allow the severely deprived to heal; and “…sustained loving environments in adulthood can help undo the damage of childhood isolation.”
So no matter how much you pride yourself in being independent, other people do matter.
Further, in the landmark report prepared by John Bowlby for the World Health Organization, 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, scientist Harry 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.
What does the experience of a few monkeys have to do with you?
The same has been found to be true in human children! Regardless of our starting point in life, we can reverse the effects of early deprivation by creating supportive environments in our lives right now.
Cultivating loving connections benefits everyone; and it’s not just about ensuring that our material needs are met. These 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; we feel vulnerable to the pain of rejection. But even if you’re scared, remember that developing meaningful connections is one of the best, most meaningful ways to increase your happiness.
Nobody reaches their full potential in isolation.
It’s perfectly possible to make a lot of money and gain prominence through our singular efforts, but in order to flourish, we have to 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 these types of high-quality connections “life-giving.” They involve mutual appreciation; and recharge our energy and vitality.
We 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 us is doing ÔÇô including by doing what we can to help them succeed. 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 and laugh with those who mean a lot to you. It’s incredibly fun, liberating, and it 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 is an essential ingredient for success. Without it, your life suffers in emptiness. With it your life vibrates with warmth and satisfaction.”
This week, arouse the powerful energy of love in your life, by appreciating the loving relationships you already have. It will bring even more love into your life; and you will much happier for it!
*Primrose Oteng is a Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) and the Founder of the Positive Peace Project, an organization dedicated to creating positive change through personal empowerment. Contact: [email protected]