The “rugged individual” is a false ideal. We are social animals who have evolved to bond with and depend on other human beings. Our attitude and actions can improve the quality of our relationships or cause them to deteriorate.
A story from India about relationships :
A young woman married and went to live with her husband. Her mother-in-law also lived in the house.
It didn’t take long for the young woman to discover that it was nearly impossible to get along with her mother-in-law, a critical and mean-spirited woman, able to find something wrong with anything the young wife did. They constantly argued and bickered, even though custom dictated that the mother-in-law was to be treated with respect.
Finally, the young wife reached the breaking point. She went to see one of her father’s old friends, a dealer of herbs, wise to the ways of the world. There she poured out her sad story about the situation that had become unbearable to her. She asked if he could give her a poison that would solve her problem once and for all.
The old man was silent for a time, thinking. Then he said, “I can help you solve your problem but you must do exactly as I say.”
“Of course,” the girl answered. “I’ll do whatever you tell me to.”
The old man mixed some herbs from various jars, put them in a packet, and handed them to the girl. “You can’t use a poison to kill her right away or you’ll be suspected and probably caught. So, the herbs I have given you will slowly build up in her body. Each day, prepare her a delicious meal and add a small amount of the herbs.”
“Then,” he continued, “so that you don’t fall under suspicion, be very careful to treat your mother-in-law with respect. Be friendly and loving to her, don’t argue, and do whatever she asks. That way, you won’t be suspected.”
The young wife thanked the man, then rushed home to follow his instructions and get rid of her unbearable mother-in-law.
As the days and weeks passed, she did as the old herb seller had told her. Each day, she prepared a delicious meal, adding some of the herbs to her mother-in-law’s food. To avoid suspicion, she remembered to keep her temper in check, to obey her mother-in-law and to treat her with love and respect.
Amazingly, the situation in the household completely changed. No longer were the two women at each other’s throats, arguing and complaining. To the young wife’s surprise, she found she never got angry with her mother-in-law anymore and the older woman seemed much kinder and easier to get along with.
The mother-in-law’s attitude toward her daughter-in-law had changed as well and she loved the girl like her own daughter.
One day, the young woman hurried to the herb seller’s shop. She was distraught. “Please, sir,” she pleaded. “Give me something to reverse the poison I’ve been feeding to my mother-in-law. She has changed so much and become so pleasant and loving, I love her like my own mother. I don’t want her to die!”
The old man smiled. “My child, you have no need to worry. I didn’t give you any poison. The herbs I gave you were to improve her health The only poison was the poison in your mind and in your attitude toward her. Now all that has been washed away by the love you have given her.”
“Moral : Make a conscious choice to see the good qualities of the person in relationships, act it out, if necessary and gradually and surely let time heal relationships.” [Shori]
Pillars Of Flourishing
In his book, Flourish, Dr. Martin Seligman replaces his “theory of happiness” (from his book Authentic Happiness) with a “theory of well-being”, a way in which positive psychology can help us live a life of well-being and meaning.
Seligman provides the acronym = PERMA to identify the five pillars of flourishing:
P – Positive Emotion
E – Engagement
R – Relationships
M – Meaning
A – Accomplishments
For this article, let’s consider Relationships, one of the components of Seligman’s PERMA model and a necessary ingredient for flourishing. And we’ll explore the importance of nurturing our ties to other people.
Relationships: Crucial For A Meaningful Life
“Relationships and social connections are crucial to meaningful lives.” [Pascha]
Our western mystique often extols the “rugged individual”, that hardy man or woman who is completely in control of his or her success and happiness, who doesn’t need anyone else.
Research shows this concept to be a false ideal. We are social animals who have evolved to bond with and depend on other human beings. [Pascha] “We thrive on connections that promote love, intimacy, and a strong emotional and physical interaction with other humans.” [Pascha] We need the recognition of family and friends when we have good things happen and we need the support of other people when we struggle with challenges.
Dr. Mitch Prinstein serves as the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and the Director of Clinical Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and he has done significant research in the psychology of popularity.
In his research, Dr. Prinstein has examined pain centers in the human brain. It seems our pain centers are activated when we risk isolation from the group. We are hard-wired to avoid isolation and to seek out a group to which we can belong — that is, to develop relationships with other humans. [Pascha]
Our Attitude Determines The Quality Of Our Relationships
We may have evolved to need and to seek out relationships, but that doesn’t guarantee they will be beneficial. Another factor has a huge impact on the quality of our relationships. Earl Nightingale called it “the magic word” and it is . . . our attitude.
This is how he explains it: “Your attitude clearly determines what happens to you in life. We get back measure for measure an exact reflection of what we put out. Therefore, if you find people are reacting unfavorably or if you get the idea the world is picking on you – it might be time to look at the attitude you have been presenting to others and the world.”
“You have a choice regardless of the circumstances to be either cheerful or not. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by being defensive, grumpy, or even mean – so why be it? If you develop the right attitude, you will find others will have the same positive attitude towards you.” [Nightingale]
Take a look around at your relationships with your family, your friends, your relatives and the people with whom you interact day to day. How would you describe each of those relationships? If they are not excellent or good, perhaps it’s time to take a good close look at your attitude regarding them.
Relationships: Important For Happiness + Positivity
Do you know one feature that separates the very happiest people (the top 10 percent) from the rest of us? It isn’t how much money they have, the kind of car they drive, or how big their houses are. The thing that the happiest people have in common is the quality of their relationships . . . “they have a good social life, they have friends and a current romantic partner.” [Grenville-Cleave]
Writing about Seligman’s PERMA model in the PositivePsychology.com blog, Elaine Mead says about Relationships: they are a “crucial part of our sense of well-being and happiness”. The width of our social circle and the depth of our interactions with others have “a significant impact” on our positivity. [Mead]
“Positive, useful, and inspiring connections lead to more positive emotions, enabling us to feel heard, seen, and supported,” says Mead. “Playing an active role within those relationships – by offering support, listening, and helping in return, without expectations – will also lead to greater positive emotions.” [Mead]
Building Better Relationships
In thinking about your relationships and ways to improve their quality, thereby increasing your own feelings of well-being and happiness, write your answers to these questions.
1. How would you describe your relationships with other people?
2. What are your most important relationships, and why?
3. What relationships bring you joy and support? How could you have more of these?
Brian Tracy says that the way children spell “love” is “T-I-M-E”. Guess what? That’s the way we all spell “Love”.
Here are some ways you can give Time and Love to the important person in your life.
- Commit to spending extra time with your partner each week.
- Spend five minutes each day expressing appreciation or gratitude for specific behaviors.
- Before you part in the morning, find out one thing each of you is going to do that day. When you meet again, have a “reunion conversation” in a low-stress setting and listen.
- Schedule several hours once a week and make it a dedicated ritual. During this time, do something, or share an experience, together.
- Create a media-free zone in your home, reserved for conversations only.
Not Just For Lovers
While the scientific research is unequivocal regarding the importance of relationships, it doesn’t indicate that the relationships have to be romantic ones.
If you are married, it is of course important to invest in your relationship with your spouse. A good deal of happiness can be derived from this relationship.
But, married or single, we need to cultivate friendships and ties to other family members – siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews, even mothers-in-law! As Sonja Lyubomirsky, one of the major voices in the positive psychology field, said: “a strategy to invest in relationships can bring happiness when directed not only at lovers and spouses but at almost any significant relationship in your life.” [Lyubomirsky]
So take care of each other. Treat the people in your life as the important people they are. That is embracing the Excelerated Life™!
Developing Excelerated Relationships™ — nurturing ties to other people — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being and a life of meaning, purpose and service.
 I adapted this story from a tale from India by Lekh Raj Shori. (See Resources.)
Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How Of Happiness. New York: Penquin Books, 2007
Mead, Elaine. “8 PERMA Model Activities and Worksheets to Apply With Clients.” PositivePsychology.com. PositivePsychology.com, February 11, 2020. Web. March 14, 2020.
Nightingale, Earl. “Attitude (Leadership Series).” RSVP For Success. RSVP For Success, . Web. March 14, 2020.
Pascha, BSc., Mariana. “The PERMA Model: Your Scientific Theory of Happiness.” PositivePsychology.com. PositivePsychology.com, February 11, 2020. Web. March 14, 2020.
Shori, Lekh Raj. “An Inspirational Story To Improve Difficult Relationships.” SpeakintTree.IN. Times Internet LTD, November 16, 2013. Web. March 23, 2020.