Myth: We need to be loved to be happy.

‘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.

6 Responses to Myth: We need to be loved to be happy.

  1. V.B. says:

    Dear Mark Avery,
    I just left a comment a few hours ago regarding self-love and what you think of it (which is under moderation). I apologise for asking that question! I had only read one of your books and did not realise that another one of your books covers this very aspect!

    The point you raise in the introduction about the concept of self-love and how no one actually truly seems to suggest how to get there (other than by flicking some switch, or daily positive affirmations – which are tricky, or treating yourself eg nice dinner, exercise etc – all temporary factors, or chasing your dreams), holds true. I look forward to perusing the rest of the tome!

    Best Wishes.

  2. V.B. says:

    Dear Mark Avery,
    I am in my early to mid-twenties and begun the journey of self-development a few years ago. I have only most recently discovered your blog/book and having read through your book and a few of the myths (with all intent to read them again), I would like to offer my most sincere praise as your words and examples are wonderful to read and experience!

    I have read often about the concept of self-love and its significance in happiness/well-being. What are your thoughts on it? Is self-loving even necessary? And if so, does it fit into core/temporary happiness or both or neither? Is building resilience and meeting the innate need to belong a part of being self-loving? Do you believe that there are other parts to being a self-loving person?

    I read this on another website and wanted to quote it, as I am unsure how I would answer the questions. Your thoughts on it would be appreciated! “Many people think they love themselves, but what we feel is rather the liking of self. When you manage to lose a few kilos, when you do your hair and make up and look great – you like yourself. When you achieve something big – you like yourself. When you help another person – you like yourself. But what about when the opposite happens?
    If you put on a few kilos, would you still look in the mirror with the love and appreciation? Do you like yourself even when your hair is messy and you got a few pimples on your face? Or what when you acted really mean to somebody – do you still like yourself then? What we often take for self-love is a conditional liking of the person we are.
    Instead of pure [unconditional] love, we judge ourselves. If we do something right, we reward ourselves with love. But when we do something bad, we punish ourselves by taking that love away. We become the harshest punisher in our lives.” (Magda Kay)

    I look forward to your reply!

    • Mr Bashful says:

      Hi V.B.
      First, thank you for your delightful compliments in your first paragraph. Much appreciated. Comments like those are heartening.

      And I applaud you on your writing skills. Your comments are measured, articulate, and a delight to read. Thank you.

      I received your second comment but I’ll still answer your question regarding the quote from Magda. The trouble is, I don’t know what to say, because I haven’t thought the way Magda thinks. If I lose a few kilos, or achieve something, I don’t like myself more; and if I gain a few kilos and make a big blunder I don’t like myself less. (Strangely, I don’t like or dislike myself. I certainly don’t love myself. And that is one of the reasons I wrote that other book: although I have a low self worth and a low self esteem, I lead a happy life. My happiness is not contingent on how much I value myself. I wrote the other book to work out why.) But I am guessing that Magda likes herself more when she loses a few kilos, and vice versa, so perhaps it’s true, for her. Perhaps she does use self love as a reward and punishment. It sounds that to her, self love is a commondity that she can dish out or snatch away, depending on her successes and failures. That seems strange to me, but we’re all different. I would have thought that our level of self love (or self liking) would remain at a steady level regardless of what is happening in our life. But that might be just me. I might be the unusual one! No matter: if your experience with self love and respect aligns with Magda’s, then she might well be right. (But I’d still suggest that you read my other book.) If your experience doesn’t align with Magda’s, then let her words recede into the never-never.
      I dunno.
      But if you tend to punish yourself with insults when you make a mistake, try reading Key 21. “Be angry with yourself.”
      Thank you for your question. I’m now considering adding an extra chapter: a declaration of my levels of self worth, self liking, etc. and an acknowledgement that any low levels don’t seem to be affecting my happiness.
      Cheers,
      Mark.

  3. Johannes says:

    I can see that you are theory-crafting a lot. I hope you have, in a true and genuine way, been through all those feelings you are talking about and trying to refute. I will tell you now where you are (probably) wrong. First of all I think that feeling valued is essentially the same thing as feeling loved. There are many ways to love someone. Telling the truth, do something extraordinary for someone, forgive someone etc. You know what they say: It’s better to show that you love someone rather than say it. Second, I am a believer, so I think that when we die and (if) we go to heaven the “temporary” feelings of love will continue forever and thus not be temporary. I think that those strongest feelings are there for a reason.

    Now I have been without this kind of love for many many years and I know that I will feel true happiness for a moment (that’s how I put it) if I get this love. Because it is a reminder what life is all about. Now you are probably wondering what I’m talking about so I will explain: I picture myself that someone is loving me and cuddling up on me. Of course I feel great. But the feeling is not temporary and a lower range than some other genuine feeling, because what I feel then is something that all people on earth should strive to feel and do for one another. Thus it becomes something important for all time and not only temporary.

    So I think that you have to think in more complex terms. Because life is complex.

    • Mr Bashful says:

      Hi Johannes,
      I apologise. For some reason I approved your comment without responding to it, and after two years I have only just noticed that! I am very sorry. I like to respond to every genuine comment. I will check my other posts to ensure I haven’t inadvertently ignored other people.
      You ask if I have been through the feelings I’ve talked about. I have. That’s how I came to understand my claim. I have not been loved by anyone for two decades, and yet I have been happy. (My sister is the exception, but she lives 1000s of kilometres away, and I only see her briefly every few years. That’s not enough to sustain a person.) So, I had to figure out why I was happy, even though I have had no one to love me for such a long time. It was then I realised that ‘feeling valued’ is the important bit, and that the strong feelings of love “trick” us into assuming that it’s love which is important. That’s when I figured out the sandwich analogy.
      You say that feeling valued is essentially the same thing as feeling loved. There is a lot in your observation. Indeed, I’m tempted to agree with you. When someone says ‘good morning’ they’re saying ‘I love you’. My point is to let the reader know that they don’t have to be actually loved (adored) by someone to be happy, provided they feel valued by the people around them: the newsagent, the grocer, and in telling the truth, being forgiven, etc. as you point out. Many people think it’s essential to be adored to be happy, because many writers say it. The happiness gurus are always telling us that we need loving relationships to be happy. We hear it so many times it has become easy to believe. (And it seems so self-evident.) I want the reader to know that they don’t need someone’s love or adoration to be happy, provided they feel valued (loved) by humanity in general. In short, I think we agree on that matter.
      With regards to the afterlife, then yes, if there is a heaven you might well get permanent, unceasing love. A permanent infusion of oxytocin, for example. Already, scientists in laboratories have attached electrodes to the brains of mice, and every time the mouse pulls a lever they feel euphoria. The pleasure the mice receive is so great, many have starved to death pulling the lever instead of having a feed. So yes, it’s entirely possible that if you went to heaven, you could feel permanently loved forever. In God’s way, of course. I can’t imagine Him attaching electrodes to His believers’ brains. He would do it in His own way.
      Like me, you have gone without love for many years, and like me, you would feel wonderful if you were to be in a loving relationship. I know I’d love it. It would be wonderful for us both. We would be happier for a while with all that oxytocin filling our brains, but it would not be core happiness. The fact that I am still happy, even though a loving relationship would be wonderful, reminds me that the two aren’t connected.
      It’s that sandwich analogy again. We’d love to eat in a five-star restaurant and if we get the opportunity, let’s grab it! But to ‘fill the spot’ and be healthy, sandwiches will do.
      I can see your point that to have that wonderful feeling of cuddling up to someone, and having a warm and healthy relationship, is far more important that any ‘temporary’ feeling I might make it out to be. I can only say that yes, it’s a wonderful feeling, and I hope we both get it, but to be actually happy, we don’t need it. We might think we do, because we want it so much, and our longing is definitely telling us something, but we don’t need it provided we feel valued (loved) by humanit. Not all of us do feel valued by humanity, and so then being loved becomes vitally important, to fill that void. That can lead us into accepting dysfunctional relationships.
      That said, my words might not apply to a far younger person than I because they have raging within them far more hormones and drives and insecurities and the like, and they are still getting used to having those drives. When they’re hopelessly in love, or desperately seeking it, it’s not much good me telling them they don’t need love to be happy! And that proves your point: I have to think in even more complex terms. Although I claim that happiness comes from satisfying innate needs, the needs of the young might drown out the more sedate need to feel valued. Yes, life is complex!
      Again, my apologies for inadvertently ignoring your comment for two years! I will ensure I don’t inadvertently ignore anyone else who has been generous enough to respond to one of my articles.
      My warm regards to you, Johannes,
      Mark.

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