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. We flourish with others. When 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.
Positive Psychology and Others
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 (Ben-Sharhar, 2007).
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” (Ibid, page 112). Happiness, or flourishing, is associated with relationships with others.
Biologically We Need Others
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 connection is a fundamental task. She explains “empathy, or thinking about the emotions of others, is not enough. What is required for emotional life with others to thrive is the genuine reciprocal sympathy of impulses and feelings and intuitive companionship of purposes achieved through the coordinated vitality of dynamic ‘relational emotions’ with persons” (2009, Kindle location 1,348). Basically, we flourish with others.
However, if we fail to develop adequate social feelings and skills our relationship shortcomings compound.
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.”~T. Franklin Murphy
Connecting With Others Can Be Challenging
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 faulty childhood models, or when adult experiences have exposed us to danger and abuse, we approach new 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.
Books on Wellness and Relationships
Some soothe their aching mind with protecting justifications, blaming others and then hiding in solitude, denying themselves the richness of a flourishing life that includes healthy relationships. Others continue jumping in and out of unpredictable and dangerous relationships, hoping one day they will get lucky and find a prince (princess) charming.
“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”
~ Audrey Hepburn
Limitations of Relationships
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.
Adler, Alfred (2009). Understanding Human Nature: The Psychology of Personality. Oneworld Publications; 3rd edition.
Ben-Shahar, Tal (2007). Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. McGraw Hill; 1st edition.
Trevarthen, Colwyn (2009). The Functions of Emotion in Infancy The Regulation and Communication of Rhythm, Sympathy, and Meaning in Human Development. In The Healing Power of Emotion: Affective Neuroscience, Development & Clinical Practice. Editors Diana Fosha PhD, Daniel J. Siegel M.D., and Marion F. Solomon Ph.D.. W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition.