The Search for Happiness
What is life about? What leads to experiences of meaning, fulfillment, and joy?
Research from a variety of sources increasingly points to the importance of connection through meaningful relationships. A Harvard study tracked the lives of graduates for over 80 years. The study found that close friendships were the only factor statistically associated with increases in happiness — not wealth, a successful career, or marital status. Research by psychologists and neuroscientists continues to highlight the importance of social connection in experiences of happiness and meaning and the emotional pain caused by rejection or disconnection.
Connection involves the experience of feeling fully known, loved, accepted and valued. It is not quantified by the number of relationships we have. Rather, it is found in the depth of relationships, and the intimacy, vulnerability, and safety enjoyed. Social worker and researcher Brené Brown studied connection through the lens of vulnerability for years. She described her findings as the following: “After fifteen years of social work education, I was sure of one thing: Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.” [*For more on her important work, see her website or her numerous books on related subjects.]
The experience of true connection also enables growth and moving on from one’s past. When we can be in healthy, fulfilling friendships with others who know our full selves and pasts, we have an experience of acceptance that empowers us to move forward. These experiences can unlock greater joy and peace in our lives.
Experiencing Connection in Recovery
Not only is healthy connection related to finding satisfaction in life, but it is also a vital aspect of successful recovery. Many find the opportunity for connection in recovery that they’ve not experienced since they last belonged to a group, such as a sports team, a unit of the armed forces, or a healthy family unit.
Much of recovery involves opportunities to build meaningful relationships, new friends, or a recovery family. Support groups, treatment centers, and group therapy are all channels for building healthy connections through sharing personal and vulnerable stories. Recovery offers us the opportunity to experience healing from past trauma and re-understand one’s story with others on the journey.
Authentic connection requires being known. That involves knowing one’s self and owning our story. This doesn’t mean that we gloss over past experiences of pain. Rather, it means that we view our pain from a place where it no longer has control over our present or future.
Not all recovery environments promote this type of vulnerability. It’s an important aspect to look for as we pursue connection and recovery. Over time, we may find that lessons and practices developed in recovery can create greater opportunities for life, connection, and love in other settings.
Building Connection at Your Own Pace
Letting others into our stories may be difficult at first. However, the end result of going through the process of sharing our stories and listening to the stories of others may surprise us. Healthy vulnerability and connection lead to freedom and authenticity. You have permission to go at your own pace. The process may sound challenging, foreign, or uncomfortable at first — particularly if past experiences with vulnerability were accompanied by pain or rejection. However, rediscovering the joy of connection is worth the risk. Connection brings fulfillment and hope that can transform our lives in unexpected ways.