A neglected act in the pursuit of our wellbeing
The modern norm
We grow accustomed to living by ourselves. Becoming independent and strong; emotionally, financially, physically… Providing for ourselves and caring for our own needs. Any need. By any means. Throwing ourselves into aims, goals, shopping malls, adventures, challenges, careers… Surviving and triumphing over others (not with others). We are winners or at least that is what we all endeavour to be. And all of this in the name of happiness and success. In other words, for our wellbeing, for a better life. In fact, we do not just grow accustomed to this. We strive wholeheartedly for it. This is the modern norm, the new ideal and we reckless and formidable achievers.
How did we get here?
The world is now more demanding than ever before. To name but a few current cultural trends there is globalisation and its effects of the employment market; multiculturalism and the blurring of national identities, communities, and borders; the relentless (and indeed very enjoyable) consumerism; social media as a mean to establish a public presence and redeem personal significance; and the “entrepreneur”, “socialite” or “Mr/Mrs American Express” as idealised role models to copy… the list goes on.
The “game” is upgraded and to cope our limits of efforts are being pushed too or we push them ourselves.
But something is left behind… Oh! It’s Us!
Regardless of whether we join this whirlwind culture because it tickles our little grey brain cells, or to compensate for feelings of inferiority or superiority, because we have bills to pay or simply because we accept current way of living for what it is, it makes little difference. We all, more often than not, neglect one key act so important for our wellbeing that, in doing so we undermine, if not entirely defeat, the purpose of all our aforementioned well-meant efforts.
Establishing ties with others.
And, of course, I am not talking about chit chats and social interactions that aim to increase our number of friends on social media sites or social exchanges that keep us busy and entertained during our commute or spare time. Nor our attempts to get the next date or into someone’s bed, seal the next work deal or secure the next job in line, or whatever next “thing” we want to achieve… These are of course practical and undoubtedly necessary acts that may contribute to our wellbeing too but they are all far too ephemeral to satisfy us in depth.
I am talking about ties that matter.
I am talking about the conscious, effortful, and time-consuming acts of paying attention, getting to know, sharing, and being present with others, who will in turn be more likely to stick with us in the long term.
But we are all too busy. We have our battles to fight, our goals to achieve, and so many things to discover, experience, and understand. We thus keep chasing relentlessly the future memories. And everything we use in this process, things, services, and people come pre-packaged and ready-made. As such, they can be used, served, bought, hired, disposed, replaced, and so on. And anyway, who else is more important than us to claim our time and deserve to be understood, really? So we end up all singing alongside the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland: “I am late I am late for a very important date, no time to say hello goodbye, I am late I am late I am late” to each other. Oh! And did I mention that we also need to rest from all this fuss? Alone, of course.
Yet, we can only understand the things that we give time to. The things we experience in depth, associate with, embrace, affect, and are affected back by them.
Ironically, the more we withdraw from the others the more in fact we become isolated from ourselves. For we find out more about us through our interactions with people. So the less we associate with others, the less we actually know about our roles and ourselves. How can we find out who we are, what are we made of, what we want from others, and what in fact we want for our own life if we exist in isolation or in superficial temporary relationships with others?
Take me and this article, for example – what value or feedback can I get from it as an author if you are not there to read it and react to it? The time and effort to write it can gain far more significance if I share it with you, as your responses will help me gain a deeper insight into myself, my writing style, and my competence in conveying a message that aims to be of service to you. In other words, there is no author without a reader.
As there is no husband without a wife, no artist without an audience, no manager without an employee and so on.
So, no one individually can possess all the answers. A great deal of them is being revealed to us only via our interactions. No one individually can thrive for holistic wellbeing. As a key aspect of it can only be achieved in a systemic context by cultivating closeness and intimacy with others.
Our glorious loneliness
Yet, this has become subsidiary for us, and we are all mercilessly and naively happy, beautiful, independent, successful, complete… but not really. We are just mirrors of each other, another cool, intelligent, high achiever in this world. But by ourselves, alone, we are not more important than anyone else, because there is no one around to make us feel unique, to tell us a genuine “well done”, to care for us when we are sick, to listen to us philosophizing, analyzing, talking nonsense, moaning, and singing (albeit melodically out of tune), there is no one to tolerate us being grumpy or comfort us on a low day or just be with us when we have absolutely nothing to say or give. Because we are no one’s someone who matters.
Nowadays, loneliness has achieved a completely new layer of definition. Drowned in self-centeredness, the ugly parts painted over and promoted as success and the new wellbeing status. We are all alone among people.
A message for all of us from those ahead
However, in my work, I see all sorts of people, elderly and young, high or low achievers, educated, street-wise with debilitating disorders and diseases, many of them at the end of their lives who hear the clock ticking louder than the rest of us but they all have a common regret or wish. Had they a second chance they would dedicate more time to others and cherish their moments with their significant ones – this would have make them happier and more fulfilled. They would give up what they have been striving for or it is this that would have made what they have achieved more meaningful to them. Isn’t this striking? I wonder if the reality of death makes them see clearer what it is all about – why so many people with different backgrounds and lives come to the same conclusion at the very end? I have witness so many times that when we lose our strength and fortitude, perhaps even our innocence, when we realise our vulnerability and mortality, we are becoming disillusioned, or at least less distracted from biased beliefs, social norms, materialistic desires and thus more honest to our true human needs. There is undoubtedly a lesson there for everyone and for most of us it is still not too late.
How to claim our wellbeing back
The truth is that we are all alone in our life journey. But there is no need to be lonely in it. After all, our wellbeing depends highly on this. And all it “costs” to achieve this is time. Time to get to know, share and understand the other, time to call, listen, write, time to hug and hold, time to give and take. It is this time that we will “waste” that it will separate us from the artificial modern and monotonous norm that this world imposes on us, it will enhance our wellbeing, and give us a meaningful and worthwhile life.
We will all end up with what we dedicated time to, whether that is a long CV, a lucrative bank account or …
The choice is (still) yours.
But just in case, your answer is something along the lines of a good life… remember to hold the string.
*NB: This blog is linked with this article .
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Patapia Tzotzoli founded My Psychology Clinic where she gained her reputation working as Clinical Psychologist with clients on one to one basis in London and worldwide via online therapy. She specialises in adult mental health and couples therapy. Studied at the universities of East London, Oxford and Cambridge and trained at the Institute of Psychiatry where she worked across world-renowned NHS Trusts.
Click here to book an online session or in person with Dr Patapia Tzotzoli at My Psychology Clinic.