Probably the most epic research ever conducted in Psychology is the 80+ year Harvard Grant and Glueck Study.
Beginning in 1939, it tracked hundreds of youths from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds.
They regularly checked how the men were doing from medical reports, objective and subjective data.
They saw that all participants had good times and bad. All suffered fortune and challenge. What made the difference was how they coped with the challenges they faced.
The biggest single factor in predicting health, wealth and happiness was the quality of their relationships. Here’s the current Director of the study, Robert Waldinger, sharing his conclusion…
Are We Screwed If We Have A Bad Start?
Often people feel that their childhood or past experiences condemns them to repeat certain patterns.
Let’s hear the view from George Vaillant, the previous Director of the Grant Study. Here he shares a story of one of their Case Studies.
A Tale Of Two States
What these two talks show us, is that while loneliness can wreck our lives, love can heal it.
Love can give us the strength to transcend our situations.
Supportive relationships give us a safe space.
They are the cocoon of safety we can return to whenever life gets too rough.
It’s the place that we know we will be listened to and supported.
It’s where we know we will be accepted for all of our quirks, idiosyncrasies and shortcomings.
It is where we know that we understood, valued and loved… even when we feel short.
Having that base enables us to go out into the world and take risks. When we don’t have that base we feel we have to please people. We feel insecure. We have less confidence.
What Makes A Relationship Great?
It’s not the fact that we’re in a relationship that means we don’t feel lonely or that helps us to be healthier and happier.
There are lots of people in relationships who feel alone and unloved. There are people in relationships that are slowly having the life sucked out of them.
We get in relationships to love and be loved, but there’s more to it than that. Love is the feeling we get in a great relationship.
The real currency of a relationship is connection.
All of us are alone in a harsh and uncaring world. We search out others we can connect with so we feel less vulnerable and alone.
The quality of relationship we have is determined by the level of connection we build.
Bad Relationships Lack Authenticity
Bad relationships are where we play roles.
We know that someone wants a wife or husband and will accept anyone within certain boundaries.
Relationships where we don’t feel free to relax and just be ourselves are the relationships where we don’t have a strong connection.
When someone won’t let us in, to know what they are thinking and feeling, there is a barrier between us. That barrier creates doubt, insecurity and mistrust.
This then prevents us feeling a deeper connection and so the relationship is limited in how supportive and connected we feel.
The Need For Connection
Connection is essentially what we are all seeking.
At the risk of an existential crisis, I’d like to point out that when we look at the facts of reality, we can see that the film, The Matrix was closer than we thought.
I’m not about to spill the secrets of some madcap conspiracy theory. I am talking about the science of human experience.
Really what we have are thousands of separate pieces of information. From the temperature to what is around us and so on.
Far too many for us to process. And so what we do, is fit those data points that seem closest and most relevant to the narrative we already have.
In that sense, we don’t experience an objective reality, but the reality we expect to see.
The nature of quantum physics is that matter organises around expectation. So in a sense it is as if we are spinning through the planets alone in a virtual reality.
Connection is how we experience life. It is how we make sense of this random bundle of events.
We find our sense of meaning in our link to others.
Here’s how connection evolves.
The Evolution Of Connection
Our first connection is to a sense of life. Some might call this God, the Source or the energy of life.
This first connection is a sense of the context we are in.
I envisage this as a circle including all we are aware of. This is the context in which our life unfolds.
From this level we get the clarity that enables us to make decisions. This is the framework on which all our relationships are based.
The second connection is our sense of self.
Once we become aware of life, we become aware of I am this and I am not that. Our connection to an identity, becomes where we separate from the rest of life.
This connection is our source of confidence or lack thereof. This determines our belief in ourselves and therefore our willingness to do what we need to do.
The next connection is to the people closest to us.
Initially this will be our parents and family of origin. Later it will be our partner.
This connection is what gives us the safe space and enables us to go out and take the risks we need to achieve the things we want to achieve.
From this connection we want to feel a sense of deep connection. A feeling that we belong and are loved and accepted.
The fourth connection is to other people.
This is friends, colleagues and everyone else we interact with.
This is where we can develop congruence, the sense of authenticity and purpose.
Every Problem Is A Lack Of Connection
Being such social animals, the problems we face in life are really problems of connection.
The nature of problem tells us the connection we need to develop, repair or deepen.
Relationships are the most significant aspect of our life because everything else that we do, is driven by the connection we feel.