Yes, we do need to be loved, but only for the first 17 to 20 years.
Teenagers begin weaning themselves from their dependency on love, torn between wanting love and wanting to be independent of it. All the while they have to contend with a changing body, undeveloped brain, sexual needs and new responsibilities, just for starters.
‘A mother is not a person to lean on but a person to make leaning unnecessary.’
Dorothy Canfield Fisher.
However, many of us still believe we need love to be happy, because:
(i) we are used to the idea. If we need love for our first twenty years it’s easy to assume we need it always.
(ii) Popular culture insists we need love. Love is paramount in romance novels, Hollywood movies, songs, advertisements, religions, self-help books . . . Yes, it is a special feeling to have a child, partner, or pet cuddle up to us and look at us adoringly. Most of us know those loving moments, but those warm and fuzzy moments provide the other kind of happiness, temporary happiness; they do not contribute to core happiness. It might seem like they do because we tend to use those moments to gauge our happiness.
(iii) We enjoy being loved so much that it is easy to overestimate its importance.
My concern is: the people who are convinced they need love to be happy feel diminished when they aren’t loved. They might become desperate for love, and needy. They might even put up with bad relationships in their pursuit of love. When we believe that to be happy we must be loved, we make ourselves unnecessarily vulnerable.
In short, we don’t need to feel loved to be happy. We do, however, need to feel valued, as I have explained elsewhere. There are many ways to feel valued, and being loved is just one of them.
So, let’s view love with a healthier perspective.
Q. ‘Mark, receiving love is a must. I’ve been in a relationship for two years and I have never been happier.’
Yes, your brain is flooded with oxytocin. At some stage those happy hormones will wear off, and you will return to your core happiness.
Q. ‘I know people who would be devastated if they weren’t loved.’
Yes, some people depend on being loved in the same way others depend upon alcohol. They either don’t feel connected with humanity, or they have fully adopted the belief that they need love to be happy. Either way, they have a problem, because if they rely on being loved to feel valued they might put up with a lousy relationship.
Q. ‘Do we need to love someone to be happy? A pet, even?
Let’s say you love someone but the other person isn’t aware of how you feel, and barely knows you even exist. How would you feel?
Or, let’s say the other person is aware that you love them, but thinks you’re a creep. How would you feel?
‘Again, pretty ordinary.’
We only enjoy the love we give when it’s reciprocated. That’s why we have dogs for pets instead of beetles. Loving someone, or a pet, is not enough. We need to be loved in return to gain a benefit.
‘So you agree? We need to be loved?’
No, I don’t agree. We don’t need to be loved after our teen years. Not for our core happiness.
‘I’d love my son even if he didn’t love me.’
Even so, you wouldn’t be feeling inner peace if every day he cursed you and the ground you stood on, no matter how much you loved him.
Here are some other happiness myths:
– The power of positive thinking. We are often told that we need to look on the bright side if we want to be happy. We need to see the glass half full. But is that helpful advice?
– Myth: we need money to be happy. Surely we need money to be happy, don’t we? Without it we would be in dire straits. So, why is it a myth?
– Myth: to be happy we need to be kind. Countless times we are told that becoming a kind person will make us happier. Why isn’t that true?
– Myth: We are happier with only a few possessions. Will having fewer possessions make us feel happier? How does that work?
– Myth: We need to suffer before we can be happy. Helen Keller once said: ‘The hilltops would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.’ Is she right?
– Myth: We need to reach our full potential. The life coaches offer to help us become better people, yet in another breath tell us to accept ourselves for who we are. What’s going on?
– Myth: We need to love ourselves to be happy. We keep hearing that, but is it true? No, it’s not.
– Myth: We need close relationships to be happy. It’s the biggest, most common myth about happiness of them all. Nearly everyone says it. Yet, it’s not true.
– Myth: We need good health to be happy. That seems obvious, doesn’t it? After all, we won’t be happy suffering the black plague. But does good health bring core happiness?
– Myth: We can choose to be happy. This is one of the most pernicious myths going around. Of course we can’t choose to be happy!
– Myth: We need to fake it until we make it. Supposedly, if we act happy, we will become happy. But it’s just not true.
– Myth: Happiness comes from having low expectations. Don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed, goes the saying. But does that equal happiness? Of course not.
– Myth: We need to foster compassion to be happy. The Buddhists are particularly keen on the idea of fostering compassion. So, should we foster it?
– Myth: We can earn our self-worth. How many of us live our lives trying to earn our self-worth? Might you be trying to earn your self worth?