The only accurate prediction we can make about a newborn is that it will eventually die. As pessimistic as it sounds, it is the only available, precise information we have at the time of birth of an infant. The rest is mystery.
How do we define meaning?
Until we die, we try to live our lives as meaningful as possible. Depending on how we define meaning for ourselves, we try to build a life that resonates with these belief systems. There are many articles on the internet on how these belief systems occur: parental influence is undeniable, the culture we live in shapes our ideas about success and failure, and the experiences we make and how we interpret them give us a sense of what we are capable of… It’s all good, but let’s take a more scientific approach on this – what truly makes a good, meaningful life?
What is the source of happiness?
According to the longest study on happiness, healthy, close relationships and serving our community are what make us truly happy. They also protect our health, whereas bad relationships can easily deteriorate it. When we are unable to build good relationships with other people, we start looking for happiness somewhere else, be it fame, wealth or achievement. Now I won’t deny that wealth can bring more comfort in our lives but can comfort make you truly happy? According to the study, the answer is a big ‘No’. If the answer is so clear and simple, why do we still feel like we have something to prove to ourselves, and to others, that we are, indeed, good enough to be here and good enough to be liked?
The root of unhappiness
When we were babies, we enjoyed the unwavering attention and love that our parents and other caregivers gave us unconditionally. The world revolved around us, our needs were taken care of immediately and nobody expected anything in return. Then suddenly, something changed within this dynamic. The unconditional love that we took for granted was no longer there. What was the cause of this change?
When a child is neglected or abused, it will most likely take the blame for itself and try to turn the situation around. It will try to win the love and attention back by displaying various acts that can capture its caregiver’s attention again. Consequently, it will feel like it is loved for what it does and not for what it is. Even in functional families, children may encounter this situation. Maybe the mother spends just too much time at work, that the child internalizes the belief in order to be loved, one must put work above everything else.
The way we bond with our parents is crucial for our happiness throughout our lives. The healthy (or unhealthy) bonding patterns are already built in the first few years after our birth. We take these bonding styles as prime examples for our future relationships. These years are not only important for the relationships we have with others but also for the relationship we have with ourselves and how we define our worth. If it is the healthy, close relationships that make our lives worthwhile, not having the ability to build them can have serious negative effects on us. Childhood trauma can severely affect health across a lifetime.
Even if we loudly claim that we want happiness in our lives, what we truly look for is familiarity. If unhealthy relationship patterns are familiar to you, you will unconsciously be seeking them your whole life. You may reject any kind of healthy relationship, feeling that something is missing in them. You may be denying yourself happiness without even knowing it. It is tragic, yet liberating, to know because it enables you to make a decision and take control of your life.
The question comes down to how you would like to spend your limited amount of time on our planet? If you put all your energy into searching for love and happiness in all the wrong places and trying to deal with your feelings of not being good enough, how can you find the energy to discover and create who you truly are and what you can offer to your community with your whole heart? The only thing we know for sure about our lives is that it will eventually come to an end. The rest is a mystery that only you can reveal.
Header image credits to Radu Meșter