Myth: We need close relationships to be happy.

Nephew: I keep hearing that close relationships are important for happiness, but you have never mentioned that.

Uncle: For good reason. It’s not true. We only need the ability to have close relationships.

Nephew: What rubbish. You said we need to feel connected with one another. You called it, ‘the deep need to belong’. When we are in a close relationship we feel connected!

Uncle: Not necessarily. Many people in close relationships are not in close relationships, because the quality of those relationships is poor.

Nephew: Alright, but the experts are talking about healthy close relationships. We need close and healthy relationships to be happy.

Uncle: That’s wrong too. Look, having a close relationship is a wonderful way to satisfy our need to feel connected with one another, but it’s not the only way. We can satisfy that need if we feel connected with the tribe.

Nephew: The tribe?

Uncle: The people around us: the shopkeeper, the neighbour, the person at a bus stop. When we feel connected with the people around us we feel connected with humanity. And that’s enough to satisfy our ‘deep need to belong’. That’s enough for core happiness.

Nephew: But those connections are weak! There is a big difference between being with someone you love and having a converstation with your neighbour!

Uncle: Yet, if you have the ability to have close relationships with the people you meet . . .

Nephew: What do you mean by ‘the ability‘?

Uncle: When you speak with a person and you are actually there with them.

Nephew: What do you mean?

Uncle: You listen carefully to them . . put yourself in their shoes . . . You see them. You hear them.

Nephew: Sounds creepy.

Uncle: It might only be a nod when you walk past them in the street, but for that brief second you are fully acknowledging them. You’re not simply going through the motions while thinking of something else.

Nephew: It still sounds creepy.

Uncle: I’m just saying, if you have the ability to relate with another human being on a healthy level, then those weak connections with the shopkeeper and the person at the bus stop matter. They do the job. We don’t need to have long conversations with the people we meet; often a smile and a nod will suffice. As corny as it sounds, if you feel comfortable wishing a passer-by ‘good morning’, and mean it, there is a good chance you will feel connected with the human race, and satisfy your deep need to belong.

Nephew: That’s absurd.

Uncle: You have that belief because you can’t see the value in those ‘weak’ connections, and because you have been told so often that close relationships are important.

Nephew: Let’s clear something up: when the gurus say we need a close relationship to be happy, they mean we need someone to love, and someone to love us. Close relationships. They’re not talking about some stupid relationship between you and the newsagent.

Uncle: You said we need someone to love?

Nephew: A pet, even. 

Uncle: Let’s say you love someone but the other person thinks you’re a creep. How would you feel?

Nephew: Pretty ordinary.

Uncle: Exactly. We only enjoy the love we have for someone when it’s reciprocated. That’s why we have dogs for pets instead of beetles.

Nephew: Well, at least you agree we need to be loved.

Uncle: No, I don’t agree. We don’t need to be loved. Not for core happiness.

Nephew: Look, it’s obvious to everyone we need love to be happy. I know people who would be devastated if they weren’t loved.

Uncle: 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.

Nephew: Have you not been in love? Do you not see the difference between being loved and having a chat with your barber?

Uncle: Yes, love is wonderful! It can give us enormous pleasure, like when a loved one cuddles up to us and looks at us adoringly. Those warm 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 those pleasurable moments to gauge our happiness.

Nephew: I think you’re missing a marble.

Uncle: For the first two weeks of a baby’s life it needs three things: its mother’s loving care, its mother’s milk, and colostrum. That’s a fluid in the mother’s milk containing antibodies to protect the baby from disease. It also has other health benefits.

Nephew: I’m sorry. Have I just slipped into a parallel universe and into a different conversation? Excuse me while I get my bearings.

Uncle: For about two years the baby then needs just two things: its mother’s loving care, and her milk.

Nephew: Why are you telling me this?

Uncle: For another decade or so it needs just one thing: a parent’s loving care. Then it doesn’t need those things. It’s ‘cooked’. However, popular culture insists otherwise. We are told constantly that love is important for all of us. We find it in films, songs, religions, happiness books . . .

Nephew: Would there be any danger in getting to the point?

Uncle: I’m simply trying to persuade you to ditch the idea that people need close relationships to be happy. 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 the love which contributes to our core happiness, it’s the connection. And there are other ways to feel connected.

Nephew: What? With the postman?

Uncle: Think if it this way: eating in a five-star restaurant is a wonderful way to satisfy our hunger. Agreed?

Nephew: Agreed.

Uncle: But it’s not the only way. We can feel replete eating sandwiches. Sandwiches aren’t glamorous, but they’re filling and nutritious. They do the job.

Nephew: So?

Uncle: In the same way, being loved is a great way to feel connected. It’s a fantastic way. It’s a five-star way. But it’s not the only way. We can satisfy our need for connection by feeling connected with humanity – with the people we meet in day-to-day life. Those connections are not nearly as glamorous or as enjoyable, and they’re certainly not as obvious, but they are just as effective. And they’re enough for core happiness.

Nephew: I can see that, but I still can’t accept that a loving relationship won’t add to our happiness more than a chat with the postman.

Uncle: That’s because we tend to notice the oxytocin highs loving relationships can give us, and not notice the long-term sustaining benefits of feeling connected with humanity.

Nephew: What if an old man loses his spouse and has no-one else left to love him. He can’t be happy! He can’t simply have a chat with his butcher and feel okay again!

Uncle: Of course he will be unhappy; he will be grieving for his wife. But if he feels connected in other ways – with his community, his colleagues, his neighbours . . . after a while his core happiness will return. And that’s what we would want.

Nephew: Yes, I can see that, but . . .

Uncle: We all feel a range of emotions, and it’s quite feasible that someone can be grieving and still consider their life to be a happy one. As I’ve said to you before, a happy person still feels all the dark emotions.

Nephew:You seem to be saying we can feel happy and unhappy at the same time.

Uncle: In a way, yes. That man’s grief will overwhelm his core happiness, but when that grief begins to lift, his core happiness will still be there, waiting for him, provided he is satisfying his deep need to belong.

Nephew: You’re saying all we have to do is say hello to the neighbour and that’s as good as being in a close relationship. You really have lost the plot.

Uncle: Don’t mock the importance of feeling connected with the people you meet. If my ‘hello’ to the neighbour is genuine, it’s a quality connection, and having the ability to have quality connections with the people we meet means we also have the skills to nurture our close relationships.

Nephew: Vomit alert.

Uncle: And, when we do find someone special, that person won’t be filling a hole in our life, because there is no hole. Nor will they be completing us, because we are already complete. That person will simply be one of Life’s wonderful bonuses. And that is a healthy relationship.

Nephew: Red vomit alert.

Uncle: It’s time we diminished the significance of love and viewed it with a healthier perspective. Let’s think less about finding love, and more about strengthening the connection we have with the people we meet.

Nephew: With the tribe?

Uncle: Yes.

Nephew: You’re mad. My newly-wed neighbour says she has never been happier.

Uncle: Yes, her brain is flooded with happy hormones. At some stage they will wear off and she will return to her core happiness. Meanwhile, she can enjoy that five-star connection. Good on her.

Nephew: Let me get this right: are you saying that if we have quality connections with the people we meet in day-to-day life, we can be just as happy as a person in a healthy, loving relationship? Is that what you are saying?

Uncle: With all else being equal, yes, that’s what I’m saying. Of course, we won’t be experiencing the oxytocin highs that can occur with loved ones, but those highs have nothing to do with core happiness; they have nothing to do with our day-to-day feeling of wellbeing. But it’s easy to confuse the oxytocin highs of pleasure with core happiness.

Nephew: I suppose what you say about love goes for friends as well? We don’t need friends either?

Uncle: Correct. Having friends is a five-star way to feel connected, but it’s not the only way. There are people without friends who are connected to humanity in ways we can’t see. And, there are some people who do have friends, but because their connections are poor, they still feel isolated and unhappy.

Nephew: That I can believe.

Uncle: Yes. Some people talk and talk with their friends, but that doesn’t mean there is a quality connection between them. Often, poor conversation skills lead to disconnection.

Nephew: So you honestly don’t think close relationships are important for core happiness?

Uncle: That’s right. Though when you have close relationships, look after them. Enjoy that five-star connection. But don’t assume you need them to be happy, because you don’t. You just need the ability to have close relationships. It’s that ability that lets you connect with humanity and satisfy your deep need to belong.

Nephew: Assuming there is a smidgeon of truth in what you say, how do we gain the ability to have close relationships? Do we have to say good morning to every idiot we pass in the street?

Uncle: (Sigh) Let’s talk about that another time.


 “. . . During my 23-year stint as an FBI special agent, my colleagues and I looked into what Kaczynski, McVeigh and Rudolph (three mass murderers) had in common. The results were startling. All three were highly intelligent and well educated, with no previous history of criminal violence. But they all shared a profound inability to forge meaningful relationships.  . . .  (They were) all repeatedly unable to connect socially to the groups whose ideology they shared.”
 ‘Mr B, doesn’t this indicate that we need meaningful relationships?’
Kathleen Puckett, in the magazine, ‘New Scientist’, 4th September, 2011:

 

6 Responses to Myth: We need close relationships to be happy.

  1. Kate says:

    Hello
    Many thanks for this. It feels right to me. What if the baby doesn’t get the loving care bit of the ‘cooking’ process. Does that have any bearing on your thesis? I have very few, very loose family ties and a few friends, but could live quite happily without either. This preference feels honest and true, not a kind of giving up on people. But I have wondered whether there’s an unconscious aversion to close relationships resulting from a troubled and troubling childhood, or just an innate preference for solitude. As you describe, I get great pleasure from those chance encounters with people, however brief, and they really do seem to be satisfying and sufficient. But, I don’t want to get to the end of my life and think ‘damn, I missed something because I wasn’t prepared to be real with myself.’
    Kind regards
    Kate

    • Mr Bashful says:

      Hi Kate. Thank you for your thoughtful and articulate response!

      If the baby doesn’t get the loving care bit, does that have a bearing on my thesis? Yes and no. My ideas are a general philosophy that don’t, and can’t, take exceptions like that into account. It’s like a general study of flight that doesn’t take into account a broken wing. So no, my ideas don’t take into account times in which someone isn’t ‘cooked’ properly, but they’re not meant to. If someone isn’t ‘cooked’ properly the possibilities are endless, and how that person turns out will depend on a host of other exacerbating and compensating factors which I can’t examine.

      Your second question is even more interesting. As you may guess, like the uncle, (and like you) I have no close friends or family, but I’m living quite happily without either. I have also wondered if I have an unconscious aversion to close relationships. Could it be that time when Mum abandoned us for six weeks when I was two? Or her smothering ways from then on? Or is it in my genes to be a loner? Is it in my genes to be good-natured and easily feel connected with people? Or did I, inadvertently and with good fortune, develop the capacity to feel connected with people? It’s so hard to know. I ask such questions of myself regularly, to be ‘real with myself’ and to be honest with my reader. All I know is that to me, what I have written seems to make sense and seems to be true. (Though it would, wouldn’t it?) Even if my ability to be alone stems from my genes or my past, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s probably a good idea to not place too much importance on the necessity of a close relationship for happiness. I want to reassure people that if in their adulthood they don’t have close relationships – and there are many such people – they can still be happy. In the coming months the uncle and nephew will, in Section 2, be discussing ways in which we can increase the connection we have with people. If what they say is correct, that can’t be a bad thing anyway. No matter how good or bad our past, or how influential our genes, helpful hints can’t go astray.

      Finallly, regarding your concern about the end of your life and possible regrets, I have them already! I bet you do too. I think nearly all of us do. I often wonder what I would be like if my life had taken a different direction. Would I be happier after all? Would that mean my book is wrong? Or, would I be less happy? Or would I be the same? Who knows. When I see happily married couples I doubt myself and what I what I have written. But that’s to be expected, because my material goes against the grain of what on the surface seems right. There is no certainty for me. And for you, by the sounds of it. Good luck with that!

      In short, I already know the words to be etched onto my metaphorical tombstone: Mark Avery. Perpetually bewildered.

      Thank you for contacting me, Kate.

      Mark Avery.

  2. Felicia Kidd says:

    Hello I am a 46 year old single parent and never been married. How do I keep from feeling lonely like I’ve missed out on happiness.

    • Mr Bashful says:

      Hi,


      When I wrote the two books I was trying to solve the puzzle of what makes a person happy, resilient and connected. And that included how to make a person less lonely. I understand that most people won’t apply the tips that I present. That’s the same for other self-help books and other guide books too. There are countless self-help books around, yet most of the people who read them are still troubled. Or lonely. Either the self-help books give poor advice, (that’s common) or they give good advice but it’s asking too much to expect the reader to apply the tips. (That’s common too.) I’m one of those readers. I might read a book that sounds perfectly sensible, but not get around to actually applying the ideas in it. I have owned a book on how to project my voice for six years, but I haven’t yet practised the suggested exercises!

      But to answer your question: how you can stop feeling lonely and be happy? I’d like you to go to the ‘Happiness Myths’ section and read: ‘Myth: We need to be loved’ and ‘Myth: We need to love’. Hopefully they will persuade you that you don’t need a relationship to be happy.


      I would also suggest that you read Parts 8 & 9 in my other free online book, ‘The Umpteen Ways to Satisfy Our Deep Need to Belong’. 


      I don’t believe anyone needs a relationship to be happy, though when a single person is lonely and unhappy, it’s hard to accept that. It’s easy for a lonely person to see happy people in healthy loving relationships and assume that their relationship is why they’re happy. But they’re not happy because they’re in a relationship; they’re happy because they’re satisfying their innate need to feel connected, (and in a five-star way). People can feel connected in other ways. If we can feel connected, even if it’s only the one-star way, that’s good enough to satisfy our innate need for connection. And to be happy. That’s what my other free online book, ‘The Umpteen Ways to Satisfy Our Deep Need to Belong’ is about.


      I am 60 and have never married. Countless times I have thought how lovely it would be for me to have a healthy loving relationship with a woman. However, I have not felt lonely. And, I’m happy. I think it’s because I apply the tips I describe in the books (though I can’t be sure) and I understand why a person who is alone doesn’t have to be unhappy. They just need to feel connected. I’m fortunate, because my innate need for connection is met.


      I hope my suggested readings persuade you that you don’t need to have a relationship to be happy. A healthy loving relationship is a wonderful bonus in life, but it’s not necessary for happiness. I know that’s hard to believe, but I’ve managed it. As have countless others.


      And, if you do manage to avoid the general self-help inertia most of us experience and actually apply the tips in each book, you might well find that in a year’s time you will notice that there have been changes within you, and that you’re happy. So that when you do find a relationship, it’s not necessary, it’s just a lovely bonus.


      Warm regards,
      Mark.

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