The Search for Happiness
What is life about? What leads to experiences of meaning, fulfillment, and joy? Research from a variety of sources is increasingly pointing to the importance of connection via meaningful relationship. A Harvard study that tracked the lives of graduates over 80 years found that close friendship was the only factor statistically associated with increases in happiness — not wealth, career success, or marital status. Research by psychologists and neuroscientists have also highlighted the importance of social connection in experiences of happiness and meaning, and the emotional pain caused by rejection or disconnection.
What is at the core of meaningful relationships? True connection. Social worker and researcher Brené Brown has studied connection through the lens of vulnerability, and describes her findings after years of study 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.
Connection involves the experience of feeing fully known, fully loved, accepted and valued. It’s not quantified by the number of relationships we have, but, rather, found in intimacy and vulnerability. Connection is a pathway to experiencing acceptance and forgiveness in profound ways, and this unlock greater joy and freedom from our pasts.
Experiencing Connection in Recovery
Authentic connection requires being known, and that involves knowing one’s self and owning our story. Part of the gift of recovery is the opportunity to pursue the core elements of a meaningful life at the same time. 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 this, as connecting through the sharing of personal and vulnerable stories and shared experiences is a major focus. This is where the second part comes in — recovery offers us the opportunity to experience healing from past trauma and re-understand one’s story. This doesn’t mean that we gloss over past experiences of pain, but see them from a place where they no longer have control over our present or future. Connection is an important part of successful recovery, but it also is correlated with finding satisfaction in life.
Building Connection at Your Own Pace
Connection, and the vulnerability that enables it, may sound challenging, foreign, or uncomfortable at first — particularly if past experiences with vulnerability involved the experience of being hurt. However, rediscovering the joy of connection is worth the risk. Letting someone into your story and your past may be difficult at first. But, you may be surprised that as you hear others’ stories and see the freedom that vulnerability brings, how the process of connection can become a freeing experience over time. Many find the opportunity for connection in recovery that they’ve been lacking since the last time they were on a sports team, or in a unit of the armed forces, or in a healthy family context. Not all recovery environments promote this type of vulnerability, so it’s something to look for as you pursue connection and recovery. Over time, you may find that lessons and practices developed in recovery can create greater opportunities for life, connection, and love in other settings.