What is the secret to happiness? The findings of the longest recorded research project suggests that the quality of our relationships is the deciding factor.
Over the years, it has become my custom in Life Planning meetings to assert that no area of the Wheel of Balance is more important than another. And, for many years, I have held this to be true. But, more recently, I have come to realise that the most happiness and unhappiness I have seen has been as a result of healthy or destructive relationships.
Each Life Planning meeting commences with an exploration of individual personalities. Very often, we find that couples are comprised of opposites: the ying and yang principle. Don’t imagine that this is negative – different perspectives only enhance our own wisdom and expand our view of life. We become more self-aware, as the ‘other’ offers us the opportunity to discover what we might never have discerned about ourselves.
Sound narcissistic? Not at all! Rather, it is knowing ourselves well enough to facilitate understanding – why we think and behave the way we do … and to know when we are acting irrationally.
Much of our thinking is sub-conscious. Research has shown that only 10% of our actions are driven by conscious thought. Let’s take a practical example: consider that situation in which someone says something that triggers an emotional reaction in you – your heart beats faster, your jaw clenches, your throat burns! Can you take a step back and recognise that this response has less to do with the words heard and more to do with a past experience.
These moments of tension are more about how we feel about ourselves, and normally have nothing to do with others. What stings us almost always touches on something in ourselves that we haven’t yet become aware of or haven’t dealt with sufficiently.
I have named this instinctive response my “two-year old self” – it is likely to be a hurtful lashing out, often wounding those closest to us. Years of these responses can do irreparable damage to our relationships.
Instead, I try to allow myself to take a deep breath and walk away – a response when I have calmed down tends to be more effective.
In growing my self-awareness, I have found the work of the Enneagram (www.enneagraminstitute.com) most informative. I have learned that the trigger points for most of us are either anger, shame or fear. Shame is something that I work with daily; it is the force behind my driver personality. Knowing this does not take it away but it does allow me to be more grounded, able to distinguish between what is reality and what is my (often false, belief).
Daily meditation calms my thoughts. Yes, it is difficult not to dwell on your thoughts, but practice helps quiet that incessant inner chatter.
Good relationships depend on our being able to understand ourselves and others, to see our needs and the needs of others, and to accept the legitimacy of others’ viewpoints while expressing our own.
In short, we must try to treat others as we wish to be treated, even if we have not been treated well in the past. Our relationships therefore become an opportunity to heal the past and to make more conscious choices in the present.
So take time to understand your responses to situations and this will enable you to grow your relationships and help you to be your best self.