But Are They Really Happy?
Charles F. Glassman, MD, FACP – Coach MD
One of the funny things that we humans do is look at other people and fantasize how great their lives must be. A related phenomenon is our efforts to get people to feel that way about us—that is, to believe that our lives must be great.
I will chalk this up to our primitive nature and our primitive brain ever watchful for potential competitors. That brain I call the automatic brain (AB) because its reflexes happen automatically, without thought. We size people up all the time and don’t want people to size us up as weaker than them.
Two recent celebrity marriage breakups illustrate the point: Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, Heidi Klum and Seal. Heidi and Seal went out of their way to show the world how perfect was their love affair—lavish anniversaries, renewing their vows each time, paparazzi catching romantic handholdings on faraway beaches, their young children frolicking with mommy and daddy. Katie Holmes married her childhood dreamboat. What woman wouldn’t want studly Cruise as a husband! Lucky Katie!
These couples (or their publicists) did a good job presenting themselves in a way designed to inspire envy. But what they may not have realized was that few were truly rooting for their success. You see, the success and happiness of others often triggers our primitive nature, our AB, because to have someone doing better than us signals a threat. And a triggered AB fights and flees threats.
One of the signs that one has arrived is to appear in the marriage announcements in the New York Times. For a couple to make the Sunday Times weddings section means that they really have made it. They’ve achieved a status that few have. They’re parading their success for the world to see and be envious of. It’s almost as if some of these folks get hitched just so they can get their announcement in the paper. Ah, the sheer romance of it all!
Relationships can be the source of great joy or the catalyst for stress and subsequent ill health. One source of stress in a relationship can be the perceived relationships of others, which might affect expectations in your relationship. “Why can’t you be confident like him?” she may ask. Or he may retort, “Why aren’t you as passionate as her?” Looking for answers about yourself in the perceived lives of others is a recipe for disaster and a guarantee of disharmony.
Another trap that befalls many celebrities is trying too hard to make their relationship the envy of others. They work so hard on the public appearance of their relationship that they gloss over the important private details. The result is a strain in their personal life. In their quest to be the envy of everyone, they cause everyone to fight or flee, or at the very least not be their biggest fan.
To me a relationship should never be a tool for self-aggrandizement or enhanced status. Admittedly, most of the time when this happens it does not stem from a fully conscious decision. It is merely the result of our primitive nature trying to place us in a position of maximum power or prestige. Such arrangements usually implode and, as is usually the case when we believe, trust, and take direction from our AB, we become less powerful.
The true power in a relationship comes from closeness created by a mutual trust and exchange. Both people bring to the relationship their own worldview, and both can survive just well enough on their own without the other. And in this type of relationship, the total is greater and more powerful than the sum of its parts.
Resist the natural urge to style your relationship for the favor of your community or as part of some sort of power play. Respect the integrity, inner beauty, and strength of your partner rather than thinking of how they may enhance your status. Honor your relationship and nurture it without obsessing about how others may view it. A healthy relationship has a way of attracting others while not eliciting their envy. Share a connection that supports both partners’ growth in mind, body, and soul, and know a relationship that will survive even the most difficult challenges.
He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Brain Drain, which helps explain and fix self-sabotage. It is the winner of the 2011 Independent Publisher's Award and 2011 Eric Hoffer Award as the best Self-Help and Health book, 2010 Pinnacle Book Award for best Self-Help Book, and 2009 LA Book Festival Best Spirituality Book.
To new subscribers on his website, he is now offering his free, new EBook, Destiny Diet. Weekly, Dr. Glassman hosts Medicine on the Cutting Edge, which gives a voice to pioneers in medical research and development. Dr. Glassman lives with his family in Rockland County, NY.
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