More often than not, human beings have a strong need to be part of something. We simply like doing things together. There are communities for everything! Runners, book readers, bikers, car lovers, collectors, bingo players etc. There is even an Ice Chewing community! Yes, people like to chew ice and share their experiences. In fact, all hobbies discussed in parts 1 & 2 of this series (Productive, Passive and Useless hobbies) are things that we like to share with people. In other words, we need to relate to others and feel engaged.
Some people are more social than others and some of us need more social and family time than others. Dr. Bruce Perry explains that humans are social creatures. With this in mind, our experiences in relating to others has a direct effect in how we deal with our stress and see the world. As Perry states, “we are born for love”.
For obvious reasons, our need to connect with family, friends, loved ones and people with similar interests plays a very important role in being happy. Our interpersonal relationships and our support system are the second part of the equation.
The basic cycle of life in any living organism is to be born, grow up, reproduce and then die. So, for us mortals, it’s kind of hard to reproduce without relating to people. Yes, yes... I agree that you can go to a Sperms R Us shop and get artificial insemination and you really don’t need another person, but then you’re doing it because you need the connection with a child of your own. Furthermore, in order to continue with the cycle of life, we need to connect with people in order to “bring life to this world”. In other words, we shouldn’t get anyone pregnant before dinner and a movie! During our life, we will go through a million of emotions with other people. People will make us laugh, cry, feel disappointed, hurt and an endless list of things. Nonetheless, we have a genuine need to feel connected. Here are a few suggestions establish meaningful relationships:
We need a relationship network
We need to feel we belong somewhere and also need to feel connected with others. Children, parents, siblings, extended family, friends and even pets have this effect on us. People bring us a sense of belonging and it simply makes us happy to be around people we appreciate and love. Every once in a while I have a teenager on my couch devastated because she broke up with her boyfriend. “But you don’t understand! He means the world to me!”. As adults, the usual reaction is “you’re 16 years old! What do you know about love?”. The problem with this, is that sometimes we tend to deposit all our relational chips into one individual.
I once treated a man who was severely depressed. He was a very successful business owner and was living the American dream. He only had one son and by his mid 20’s, the son was working on his PhD, was a home owner and had also developed interest in his father’s business. I don’t know about you, but I felt really proud when my daughter was able to poop in the toilet so I can only imagine how proud this man was of his only child. He saw in his son a person to leave his legacy to and someone who would know how to run his business once he was gone. One day, the man gets a call notifying him that his son had an accident and died. At that moment, his world fell apart. He didn’t care much about anything else any more. He closed his business, divorced his wife and moved to another city. His son was his happiness and when he was gone, he had nothing.
We cannot deposit our entire happiness in one person and depend on that person to make us happy. I know this doesn’t sound very romantic, but one person cannot make us happy because people are bound to fail in some way. It is important to surround ourselves with a healthy network of people that we can relate to.
People change over time, and so do relationships. You can be best friends with a person throughout your entire life, but then you suddenly lose connection after college. Does this mean that we stop caring for each other? No… This just means that we developed different lifestyles. Life events will trigger different lifestyle changes (having children, getting married, employment opportunities) which will expose us to different people. This doesn’t mean that we stopped caring about our old friendships, this just means that we are now surrounded by people with similar lifestyles and interests. Relationships change and evolve over time and we have to accept that, but this doesn’t mean that you stopped being friends. If you care about someone, then you should make the effort to continue communicating regardless on what’s going on in your life.
Sometimes we have extraordinary expectations over our relationships. “I want to be with someone who protects me, makes me laugh, is a good cook and someone who helps me with my problems.” That’s like a Therapist-Ninja-Chef-Clown! a relationship Rambo in other words. I hate to break it to you, but there is no perfect half out there. We have to accept and understand that our partner, friends, family and loved ones are not perfect. Take a moment to evaluate if you are being reasonable with what you’re expecting from them. When everyone is wrong, sometimes we have to stop and think if we are not the ones at fault.
You are the attention you give
Have you ever been in a situation that you have to “prepare” yourself to meet with someone? You know the conversation will not be pleasant or you will have a two hour complaning session. If we want to have meaningful relationships, then we can start by giving people meaningful attention. Life is not all about problems or about fixing things, sometimes we just need to be able to laugh, talk about nonsense, have an intelligent conversation or simply hang out and do something. “Oh but my husband is the only person I tell my problems to” If this has come out of your mouth, then seeking counseling will be an excellent choice at this time. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that you shouldn’t talk to your loved ones about your problems, I just think this shouldn’t be the only topic of conversation. Here are a few rules to follow on this:
Don’t talk about problems when you’re hungry.
Limit yourself to two problems per sitting.
Conclude one topic then move on to the next.
Do not let your conversation be all about you.
Make time for fun talk
We have to make time to enjoy our relationships. As we discussed in the previous parts of this series, we have to make time out of our busy schedule to connect the people that we care about. This may take a change in your routine, but will be definitely worth it. If we are able to enjoy our free time through meaningful hobbies, then share our experiences with the people we love, we will be one step closer to being happy. Every person we connect to will have an impact on us; therefore, we must choose carefully who influences us.
A friend is not the one who hears our problems, but one that understands our daily living.