Our Connections with Others are Important
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of making connections with others. We all really need them, but it seems that people are more disconnected than they’ve ever been.
Recently, I had a conversation with the psychotherapist Megan Bruneau, for my Ruthless Compassion podcast. She’s also noticed how people are lonelier and alienated these days.
In her practice, Ms. Bruneau has observed how disconnection and isolation lead to problems such as depression, anxiety, even psychosis. Her recommendation was that we make more of an effort to connect with each-other daily.
Sadly, our consumerist society has resulted in people increasingly seeing each-other as objects to exploit and take advantage of, when all we really need is to connect with one-another.
Why Do We Seek Friends?
More and more, people are being reduced to one basic function: as a source of money, social status, political or career advancement, or sex.
In our society, it’s not uncommon that one person befriends another because they believe that this “friend” will benefit them socially, financially or politically. It’s not uncommon for a man to date a woman to make him look good to his associates, or a woman to use a man for financial security or social status.
Relationships based more on personal gain than mutual affection have always been part of our world, but it all seems more blatant, these days. And, sadly, these types of exploitative arrangements encourage everyone else to keep seeing other people as helpful objects to make use of, rather than as delightful individuals to share and connect with.
How Friends Help Us to Be Happy
In his book, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, Matthieu Ricard, the French writer, Buddhist monk and “happiest man in the world” talks about why so many people are deeply unhappy today.
Ricard says that in part, it’s because they “instrumentalize” one-another. This is another way of saying that people too often see each-other as objects to use, instead of opening their hearts to one-another and enjoying being together.
Ricard would like us to make more of an effort to access our empathy and compassion for other people. He says that loving and caring about others are the only real ways to create happiness.
Compassion Also Plays a Big Role
Recent research tells us that it’s only through love and compassion that we find real happiness. In her new audio book, The Science of Compassion, the health psychologist Kelly McGonigal describes how doing for others changes our physiology, improves our mood and deepens our sense of connection.
Studies show that being generous makes us happy, while being selfish or insensitive toward others increases our loneliness and unhappiness. Using others, no matter what we gain from these transactions, leaves us even more miserable than we were before.
Connecting to other people and being kind to them raises our levels of endorphins, the chemicals that cause us to feel happy and improve our overall well-being. It boosts our oxytocin, the bonding hormone. So, the more we connect, the more we want to connect.
What Keeps Us from Connecting?
Loneliness and disconnection, including acts of greed or selfishness, will increase our levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which promotes anxiety and depression, causes us to keep weight on and lowers our ability to fight off infections, heart disease and cancer. Consider these in relationship to others:
People these days use each-other to boost their self-worth.
They maneuver to be the “top dog” and get everyone in the group to do things their way. People like to show off their flashy possessions or brag about their exploits.
They compete with one-another for who’s the most wealthy, attractive or successful.
They post endless pictures on social media, demonstrating how great they are, but all of this is just making them lonelier, alienated and sad.
When we’re disconnected, we become isolated and miserable.
And when we’re miserable, we isolate ourselves further. Conveniently, society offers us an alternative to creating meaningful connections: we can be a consumer.
The Ways Being a Consumer Affects Relationships
We’re actively encouraged (by businesses that offer goods or services) to overeat, drink excessively, gamble or medicate ourselves to fill up our emptiness and soothe our feelings of alienation.
We’re constantly encouraged to go shopping. Advertisers promise us that having more “stuff” will compensate for the loneliness and distress we’re feeling.
Unfortunately, all this consuming just creates a vicious circle of more misery and alienation, more attempts at using people and things to try and feel better, and more unhappiness and emptiness.
Using people or things isn’t a valid solution to our feelings of loneliness, emptiness and alienation.
Consuming things – or other people – has never made anyone happy. That’s why someone who uses other people or things to fill the void is compelled to keep on being a user. It never feels like enough.
The Answer? Connect with Others
If we’re suffering from disconnection, the only answer is to connect.
When we have disconnection, we are unable to value other people or respect their lives. It’s easy to be rude, selfish or hurtful. We become, in a sense, “antisocial.”
Feeling disconnected makes it easier to behave badly toward others. We create a vicious circle, because our bad behavior will end up pushing people away. When these people get angry or withdraw from us, it will reinforce our sense of alienation and encourage us to be that much more antisocial.
The more disconnected we feel, the more insensitive and self-centered we become, the more isolated we become and the more alienated and empty we feel.
Instead of a vicious circle of increasing disconnection and turning to consuming to compensate, we can begin to create a positive spiral of empathy, compassion and growing connection.
The Difference between Connecting and Pleasing
Most people think that constantly giving to others or helping others will make them happy. Unfortunately, being a people-pleaser won’t make us any happier than being selfish and a user.
There’s a real difference between connecting and people-pleasing. Connecting is opening your heart to others. People-pleasing is trying to get others to like you, approve of you, and make you feel good about yourself.
You must love yourself and connect to others with a heart filled with self-love. That’s the true path to happiness. More people-pleasing won’t make you any happier than more using others.
More of the wrong solution doesn’t become the right solution. The answer to our loneliness, emptiness and unhappiness isn’t to exploit more people or consume more things. The answer is to open our hearts, love more, care more and try to connect more. That’s what we need most, right now, as individuals and as a society.
Marcia Sirota is an author, speaker, coach, and psychiatrist. She is the founder of the Ruthless Compassion Institute. She also has two recent books on creating successful relationships. “Women Decoded,” helps men understand what women want and how to choose the right woman. “Back on the Market” helps women return to dating successfully. Sign up for her free wellness newsletter at: www.marciasirotamd.com