‘Mr Bashful, why do you say we don’t need love to be happy?’
For the first two weeks of it’s life, a baby needs from its mother three things:
1. its mother’s love,
2. its mother’s milk, and
3. colostrum (a fluid in the mother’s milk containing antibodies to protect the baby from disease, and providing other health benefits).
For about two years the baby then needs just two things:
1. its mother’s love, and
2. its mother’s milk. (source: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/how-long-should-i-breastfeed-my-baby)
For about twenty years (approx) it needs just one thing:
1. a parent’s love.
Then it doesn’t need those things. It’s weaned. However, popular culture insists otherwise. We are told constantly that love is paramount – in books, films, songs, religions . . .
Yes, love is wonderful. It can certainly give us temporary happiness: when our child, partner, or dog, cuddles up to us and looks at us adoringly – most of us know those loving moments. Those warm and fuzzy moments can be the icing in our lives, but they do not contribute to core happiness. It only seems as though they do, because it is easy to use the frequency of those moments to gauge our happiness.
There are people who don’t have someone special in their lives, yet are happy, and there are people who are loved by many, yet are unhappy. It’s not love that we need; we need two other things:
1. We need to feel connected with one another, and to feel valued. Both are innate needs which evolved from being in a tribe. (Those who contributed to the tribe, and felt valued by the tribe, were likely to feel connected with other members of the tribe and stay in the tribe. So, they were more likely to survive long enough to find a mate and pass on their genes.)
Being loved by someone is a great way to feel connected and valued. It’s a fantastic way. But it’s not the only way. Eating in a five-star restaurant is a marvellous way to satisfy our hunger. However, it’s not the only way – we can feel replete eating sandwiches. Sandwiches aren’t glamorous, but they’re enjoyable and nutritious. In the same way, it is important to feel valued, and if you can feel valued the five-star way, by being loved, fantastic! But there are other ways to feel valued. Less glamorous ways, but just as effective.
An old man can lose his spouse and have no-one left to love him. Of course he will be unhappy – he will be grieving for his wife. But if he feels valued in other ways – by his community, or his colleagues, his friends, a neighbour, the newsagent . . . then after a while his core happiness will return. And that’s what we would want.
There are many ways to feel valued. If you find a way to feel valued without relying on love you will develop a deep and satisfying self-sufficiency, so that when you are loved you will have a steadier, healthier relationship.
2. The other thing we need: to be open to receiving love. We already innately feel loveable, but to actually feel it we need to fuel it. And, provided we are open to receiving love it is easy to fuel, because love is all around us as ‘generosity of spirit’. It is in the ‘Good morning!‘ we receive from the passer-by, and in the smiles we exchange with a shopkeeper. That might sound corny, but it’s true. We evolved to feel connected with one another, and it is the myriad of healthy connections we have with one another which sustains us. We don’t need to be loved by a particular someone to fuel our feeling of being loveable (although it’s a five-star way to fuel it); we simply need to be open to receiving love from people in general.
Not convinced? Imagine a woman who has no-one in particular to love her, yet feels warmth from neighbours, friends, workmates, from the people she meets . . . Yes, she might want to enjoy the love of someone special, but she can still retain a strong core happiness in that supportive environment because she is open to the warmth she receives.
When we open ourselves to the love in our community we become less dependent on one person’s love. We become self-sustaining, and less needy. Those connections we have with other people are enough to keep our ‘inner flame’ healthy. That’s a key for core happiness.
In our society too many people believe that to have any chance of being happy they must be loved. So, if they aren’t loved, they feel incomplete. Even devastated. They become desperate for love, and needy, and can end up putting up with bad relationships in their pursuit of it.
It’s time we diminished the significance of love, and viewed it with a healthier perspective.
If we focus on strengthening our connections with one another, and get to feel valued by those around us, then our need for love diminishes. That means, when we do find someone special, that person isn’t simply filling a hole in our life, or ‘completing’ us. Instead, that person becomes one of Life’s wonderful bonuses.
There is a lot more about this in my other book, ‘The Umpteen Ways to Satisfy Our Deep Need to Belong.‘
Q. ‘You give two reasons, Mr Bashful, but from your answers it seems to me that they’re the same: As long as we feel valued by the people we know and meet in day-to-day life, and feel connected with them, we will be as happy as a person in a healthy, loving relationship. Is that correct?’
Yep. It seems counter-intuitive because we tend to remember the oxytocin highs of temporary happiness that loving relationships can give us, and not notice the long-term sustaining benefits of feeling valued and connected with one another.
Q. ‘How can I feel valued?’
Most of us instinctively find a way to feel valued – by making friends, finding a partner, by being kind, by achieving, working hard, helping a neighbour . . .
I’ll let you figure it out. Meanwhile, consider finding ways to help other people feel valued.
Q. ‘Love IS a key to happiness, because I’ve been married two years and I’ve never been happier.’
Yes, your brain is flooded with happy hormones; in particular, oxytocin. At some stage that will wear off and you will return to your core happiness. In other words, love has provided you with that temporary happiness for at least two years. Good luck to you.
‘Two years is a long time for temporary happiness.’
Yep. That’s why Hollywood thrives on romantic love.
Q. ‘You’re saying it’s not love which makes us happy, but feeling valued . But if love makes us feel valued then it’s making us happy, isn’t it?’
We need to eat. We can consume food in a five-star restaurant or from a can. I prefer the restaurant, but either way, I get fed.
We need to feel valued. We can feel valued by being loved, or from being appreciated by people in day-to-day life. I prefer to be loved, but either way, I feel valued. I’m fed.
Q. ‘Surely we feel more valued when we are loved, which means we will feel happier?’
Nuh. Your car can have one litre of petrol in it, or thirty. Either way, it’s enough to get you going. We don’t need to feel valued heaps; we just need regular replenishment.
‘You are effectively saying that someone who is loved has no more core happiness than someone who feels appreciated by people in general?’
Correct. Again, it seems counter-intuitive because we confuse the oxytocin highs of temporary happiness with 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 other people depend upon alcohol. This could be for at least two reasons:
1. They don’t feel valued in other ways. If that’s the case they have a problem, because if they depend solely on love to feel valued they might put up with a lousy relationship.
2. They might have fully adopted the belief that we need love to be happy. (We get the message from the very beginning in ‘ they lived happily ever after’ nursery stories.) So, if they aren’t loved they assume they must be incomplete, and unhappy, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Q. ‘I suppose what you say about love goes for friends as well? We don’t need friends either?’
Yep. We need to feel valued, and having friends is simply one (wonderful) way to accomplish that. But it’s not the only way. There are people without friends who feel valued and connected in other ways, so they retain their core happiness.
Q. ‘But some people really need to be surrounded by friends. Some people find toilet cubicles lonely.’
Such people need to find another way to feel valued to reduce that dependency. Otherwise their neediness might have them end up being exploited, easily influenced, or with ‘the wrong’ friends.