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The Science of Happiness 2: Leverage Happiness of Belonging

If you read my previous post about “What is Happiness?” you learned about the four types of happiness:

  1. belonging and trust,
  2. social status and dominance,
  3. oblivion masking pain and
  4. desire for more.

Four types of happiness hormones create them: oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins.

happiness of belonging | science of happiness | new empowered you | wellbeing blog | olga willemsen | hypnotherapy

And you also have learned that nature invented happiness (and stress) purely for your survival purposes.

No, nature didn’t mean to make you a happy person living a happy life. Nature ensures that you survive and reproduce. 

So, in a default mode, you are swinging from stress and sadness into pleasure and happiness, then back, again forth, back and forth, back and forth. And in the constant pursuit of happiness, such swinging can get unpleasant and even cause our suffering.

In this post, learn how to hack and leverage the happiness of belonging and trust to live a fulfilling life.

You could have all the money you’ve ever wanted, a successful career, and be in good physical health, but without loving relationships, you won’t be happy… The good life is built with good relationships.

Robert Waldinger,
Professor Robert Waldinger is director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the world’s longest studies of adult life

The evolutionary survival advantage of bonding

Building trust and a sense of belonging has given humans multiple advantages throughout evolution and even nowadays.

It makes it easier to choose a better reproduction partner and secures the protection of offspring

It offered personal safety in the old tribe times and, even nowadays, it secures additional protection, for example, during natural disasters or wars. 

Social connections accompanied by trust and belonging are incredibly gratifying because they bring a sense of being respected and a desire for more. 

So, nature made trust and belonging exceptionally rewarding by releasing the happiness hormone oxytocin, which can also trigger an avalanche of happiness hormones serotonin and dopamine. 

Pitfalls of bonding

Seeking safety in familiarity

Humans are wired to bond. We get enormous pleasure and advantages from our relationships, but bonding can go wrong. 

We tend to bond with people similar to us as such familiarity offers us a sense of safety. 

For example, we travel or live in a foreign country. Then, we tend to bond with the people from our country, speaking our native language or persons in a similar situation. But in the long term, it does not help us integrate but creates isolation.

similar friends | happiness of belonging | science of happiness | new empowered you | olga willemsen | wellbeing blog | hypnotherapy

If we have any issues, we tend to bond with people having the same issues

For example, overweight people feel comfortable around other overweight people. Then, it is easier to accept their looks and lifestyle. But this does not support them in their weight and health management.

The desire for bonding can lead to joining violent and criminal groups. It also forces us to love abusing parents, holds us for too long in abusive relationships, and causes traumatic experiences.

Search For an Ideal Partner

The desire to bond is often accompanied by an idea about an ideal: ideal friend, partner, group, company, or team to join. In the search for such an ideal, we get disappointed about other people – friends, colleagues, teams, or companies we work in. 

But the truth is that ideals do not exist. Every one of us is driven by the biology of our survival and the survival of our offspring. Therefore, differences and conflicts in opinions, beliefs, and interests are inevitable, even between the closest people.  

Leverage happiness of belonging

A few years back, I worked in a company. I had a colleague whose desk stood right next to mine in an office. In the beginning, this colleague didn’t like me for some reason. She disliked me so much that she wouldn’t even greet me.

In response, I did what seemed right and authentic: I kept greeting her every morning and asking how she was doing. Sometimes, she didn’t answer anything. On other days, she would answer very briefly, never responding to my friendliness.

This continued for months, deeply upsetting me.

A couple of years later, we got involved in some scientific, innovative projects that genuinely interested and inspired us. As we made gradual but significant progress with the project, we had regular discussions and exchanged ideas and excitement. 

This colleague was among the first to learn I was about to leave the company.

Her response to the news truly surprised me because of her initial avoidance. She told me I had become one of the very few friends she trusted.

Build Up Trust

“Proxy” relationships with pets, crowds, or on social media offer only low levels of connection, bonding, and trust. But they are comfortable because they carry a low risk of conflict or betrayal.

On the contrary, close relationships and strong bonds can get complicated and carry higher risks for the potential pain of disappointment.

proxy relationships | social media | happiness of belonging | science of happiness | new empowered you | olga willemsen | hypnotherapy

Trusting someone, profoundly connecting, and bonding with someone requires courage and risk-taking. But such relationships feel good and fulfill you.

trust | happiness of belonging | science of happiness | new empowered you | olga willemsen | wellbeing blog | hypnotherapy

Become aware of how much or how little you trust people around you.

Is the amount of trust you grant based on how the person is and what the person did once?

Or do you restrict your trust out of caution?

Do you notice the potential of expanding your trust?

Step by step, you can build up trust and deepen your existing relationships.

From whom will you start?

The most reliable way to build trust is to nurture your own reliability and trustworthiness.

Embrace Independence!

Sometimes, building meaningful relationships starts with letting go of low-quality relationships that hold you back.

Refusing the seeming safety of bonding with similar people, you become independent and open up to new possibilities, make unique life experiences, build new skills, and enrich your life.

I genuinely believe there are very few cases when you must end a relationship. A far better tactic is to focus on filling your life with heartfelt, meaningful relationships instead:

You Have a Lot More Choices!

Look for and build relationships with people you admire who positively influence, inspire, and challenge you.

Those will naturally push the lower-quality connections to the background. 

In my experience, lower-quality relationships simply can’t remain unchanged when you shift your focus to meaningful ones. They undergo a positive transformation, too.

Find Alternative Ways to Bond

It serves us better to consider and accept the existence of the unavoidable conflict of interests between individuals and/ or groups.  

You can learn to deal with that with emotional intelligence, looking for sustainable ways of bonding with others, and nurturing commitment and trust.

Like in the example about my colleague, with persistence, authenticity, and a shared passion, we built trust and friendship by doing something meaningful for us and others.

Address Communication Problems

Ray Dalio shares in his unique book Principles: Life & Work his profound experience of working with and leading other people.

One of his essential realizations was about communication problems. According to him, these are actually collisions originating from differences in thinking and understanding.

Naturally, every person possesses unique knowledge and life experience and, therefore, perceives any life situation in her/ his own unique way.

Take into account the unique personal perception. You can make an effort to listen and understand (be open-minded). This can help you learn from the other person and strengthen the relationship.

Talk to Strangers!

The strongest unhappiness of belonging is caused by its absence or social isolation.

On the contrary, even brief interactions with strangers can bring you joy. And deep and meaningful conversations with strangers can give you a sense of belonging and wellbeing.

talk to strangers | meaningful conversations | deep conversations | happiness of belonging | new empowered you | olga willemsen | wellbeing blog | hypnotherapy

The psychology researchers showed that we rarely share something personal and meaningful with strangers because of our negative expectations. We believe that strangers are not interested and that communication will be awkward.

The above study showed that if we do go deeper than small talk, the strangers respond empathetically. And your pleasure from such a deep conversation is much greater. 

Simply imagine that a stranger in front of you will be understanding and caring.
Such an assumption made people in the study choose more profound questions to ask and discuss.

My one-month program is designed to help clients change their automatic, unconscious behavior for new behaviors that serve them better, resolve long-term issues, and make them happier. You can book a free discovery call to talk about your personal situation and how this program can help you here:

Conclusions

Trust and belonging are essential to every human. They determine our happiness, health, and longevity.

You can be the creator of your own happiness by:

  • creating more trust and depth in your existing relationships
  • expanding your circle of friends
  • being open-minded towards the unique personal thinking of other people
  • having deeper conversations with strangers

Read next:

The Science of Happiness 3: Leverage Happiness of Recognition

References

  • Loretta Graziano Breuning, Habits Of A Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels. EAN 9781440590504  16.12.2015, 238 pages
  • Ghent A. The happiness effect. Bull World Health Organ. 2011 Apr 1;89(4):246-7. doi: 10.2471/BLT.11.020411. PMID: 21479086; PMCID: PMC3066527.
TED talk / Robert Waldinger
  • “Overly Shallow? Miscalibrated Expectations Create a Barrier to Deeper Conversation,” by M. Kardas, A. Kumar, N. Epley. “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,” published online Sept. 30, 2021.
  • Ray Dalio, Principles: Life and Work. ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1501124021. Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster; September 19, 2017. 592 pages

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