Sometimes life throws us curveballs and we feel anxiety, loss, unhappiness. These are all unwanted emotions, yet they are infinitely better than the darkness that comes with the feeling of apathy where you are dead inside, and nothing matters. A state where excitement eludes you, you don’t feel like getting out of bed and you have lost your connectedness to other human beings. Life is too much of a struggle for too little reward and the prospect of death is not as scary as it ought to be. It is not that you want to die, it is just that you don’t care if you do.
Has this happened to you? Are you worried because the future is stretching in front of you indeterminately with nothing to look forward to and no ray of excitement to perk you up? Why do you feel this way? What makes life worthwhile and lights the fire in what is an otherwise dark, desert place?
If you think of the moments in your life where energy was at its peak and you felt giddy and unstoppable you may discover some similarities. Let’s take a closer look at what such moments may have been:
· When you had a new love interest
· When you had a meaningful conversation with a best friend
· When you are in the middle of an exciting project that is going well
· When you are in tip-top physical condition and your confidence is soaring
· When you are recognised for a job well done
All these situations provide connectedness with other humans and not just any type of connectedness. It is a connection that involves positive feedback. There is something magical about positive feedback, even more so when it is given by people we rate. It is a true and powerful energy booster. It also confirms that there are other humans out there who care enough about us to notice and praise our successes.
It is a sad part of life that feedback mostly comes either in a negative guise or does not appear at all. As easy as it is to notice the efforts of those we care about and give them encouragement and a sincere compliment, we rarely seem to do so. People say things such as: “She knows I love her” or “He doesn’t need me to tell him he is doing well, he knows it” etc etc.
When positive encouragement and connection from others is missing, we turn inward and create little dopamine inducing goals of the type: “when I get this promotion, then I will be happy”. Needless to say, such dopamine boosts are extremely short lived compared to the energy required to achieve them and they generally leave us feeling empty, dissatisfied and searching for the next fix. Similarly, to a drug addict, as time passes, the fix needs to get bigger and bigger to achieve the same outcome. Finally, at around middle age, the realisation comes that none of these “goals” lead to happiness. And what are these goals anyway, other than ways to incite positive feedback from other people?
Deep human connections are the key to happiness, achievement and energy. When a connection proves superficial or fake, our energy seeps away like water from a leaky bucket. We assume that all of our human bonds are strong and unchangeable. That our friends care about us, have our best interest in mind and will inconvenience themselves to come to our aid when needed. Any breach of this principle of love and friendship brings us closer to the feeling of “nothing matters after all”, particularly when we are spectacularly deceived. Yet, because of the fundamental need to be connected, this is one of the few situations where we don’t learn from experience but keep trying and trusting.
Every person, of course, traverses life separately. Even in the closest of relationships each party has their own needs and goals which can and do change over time. We can only know others at the most superficial level. To say that we understand what lies beneath is probably the most deluded of statements. At best, we know their reactions, perhaps some of their fears and ambitions but when we judge them, we use our own criteria and thus come to the wrong conclusions.
Given all that, how can we find and then hold on to connectedness? How can we reach the deeper levels of emotional altruism and truly touch the hidden core of another person?
The biggest obstacle is our ego. To protect our interests, it puts up defences, makes judgements and has expectations. It stages a performance, hides behind a façade of self-consciousness and hypocritically judges.
As we race through life our interest in others is often shallow and seen through the lens of our own biases. We give them nothing of ourselves and receive little in return. We may think that we know our closest friends well, when in fact all we know are the top layers. They also hide behind their façade and make their own judgements. Even at the deepest levels of trust, we hold something back, and keep our separateness. Unfortunately, façades cannot connect. It is very much a give and take when it comes to peering behind the masks. To be offered a peek, you need to allow a peek. You need to show that you are genuinely listening and taking in the hints given without filtering them through your own prejudices.
In a deeply connected relationship expectations have no place. Just because you “think” that you would do anything for the other person, does not mean that they are under some unspoken obligation to do anything for you. Their limits may be different to yours and hard as it may be, you need to understand and respect this. If you give them encouragement and positive feedback, without expectation, the time will come when their goalposts will shift.
As we go through life, most of us eventually understand the value of human connectedness at its most primal level. Some lucky people even transcend separateness and develop an ‘interconnectedness of being’ where they sense that they are deeply connected to the natural world, other human beings or even the whole universe.
You may have met such people. Their home is a warm place, full of friends who are naturally attracted to their genuine care. They don’t judge, gossip or expect, instead they offer love, encouragement and attention. Life to them is a place of wonders and miracles and not a scorched desert of futility and apathy. By courageously setting aside their ego and offering full access to their true self they have found the secret to happiness.