Why do I need to cultivate a network of healthy relationships around me?

We have been creating a case for the importance of having the right balance of support and accountability in our lives. We are fundamentally arms-teamworkrelational beings and thrive best when we are in relationships of trust and encouragement. That is what will sustain us over a lifetime. (See the previous posts Who Are You Allowing To Get Close To You? along with What Kinds of People Are Drawn To You? and The Power of Human Connection.)

Of course we all have our own share of difficult relationships and people we struggle to get on with, but they will come without much effort on my part! I can certainly learn a lot from such people, especially from how I react to them, but I have to be careful to not let them influence my thinking unduly.

John Maxwell talks about a survey taken among several hundred pastors and Christian leaders who had failed morally in some way or other. They had compromised their integrity and fallen into a sin that had led to them losing their ministry. The tragedy for these leaders was they had started out with great intentions of service and support to others only to find that their moral failures had disqualified them from what they had thought was their life calling.

Analysis of the survey revealed three consistent observations about these fallen leaders:

What kinds of people are drawn to you?

It struck me when writing about John Maxwell’s Law of the Inner Circle that actually all of us have inner circles in one form or another.

arms-teamworkWhether we are intentional or not about it is another matter, but all of us have people whose opinions and views we take more seriously than others. Even if we claim not to need other people, there will be significant others who have moulded our thinking and perspective. And, unless we make a conscious decision otherwise, they will continue to do so.

They become the voices or the framework through which we view life and make decisions. They can also limit or expand the expectations we have on ourselves or our abilities.

Over the years having met and mixed with a wide variety of people from different cultures and backgrounds I am struck by how powerful this can be.

So for example, you meet some people for the very first time and within a few minutes you find yourself sharing openly and honestly some of the deepest and most meaningful issues of your life. Decisions are made quickly and almost effortlessly. Things happen and real progress is made.

By contrast you enter some other circles consistently over many years and it is markedly apparent as to how you are still complete strangers to each other, afraid of vulnerability or showing any weakness. There are invisible walls and barriers that seem to separate and cause distance between you. Decisions are slow or never made. You really do feel stuck.

I always remember some wise advice given to me by Ram Gidoomal, a senior Christian leader more than 20 years ago. He described to me 3 kinds of people:

Who are you allowing to get close to you?

John Maxwell’s 11th Law of Leadership (The Law of the inner Circle) states that your potential in life is determined by those who are closest to you.

strength_in_numbers_smThis goes way beyond closeness in terms of physical proximity to those who you feel emotionally connected to, as well as look up to, respect or admire.

Another way of putting it, is who are the travel companions you are bringing along with you on the journey of life?

Either the people closest to you will be the wind beneath your wings or the anchor on your boat. They will either bring you higher or drag you down.

The Message version English translation of the Hebrew Old Testament in Proverbs 13:20 states:

“Become wise by walking with the wise;
hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces.”

Just being talented or passionate is not enough. You are only as good as the quality of those people who you relate to best and identify yourself with. To achieve anything of lasting significance or value will depend on having highly capable and gifted people around you. Those people around you in your inner circle should not be just like you. In fact they should have a different perspective to you, but they should share the same values.

The Power of Human Connection

Yes I know it is an advert, but the short 2 minute video below from Thailand beautifully illustrates the power of  human connection.

It is certainly a sweet, feel-good video, but strong interpersonal connection is not just important for babies!
We were designed as relational beings and we thrive best in every area of life when we are strongly ‘in relationship’ with others. However, there is something about modern life that seems to conspire agains this.

A study published in August 2014 by Relate, a relationship charity in Britain, found:

Moving from disappointment to joy

As we discuss that elusive search for joy that goes on in our lives, we have looked at the cultural myths that get in the way of us finding the joy we deep down long for. Tim Keller describes these as ‘naive primary strategies’.(See previous post).

appreciation-and-gratitudeThey are naive in that they are both too simplistic and because they have to do with things that have to go right in our lives for us to be happy. In traditional cultures it is about having the right spouse or family or career; while in more contemporary cultures it is the thirst for success as I choose to define it. But relying on your circumstances for ultimate happiness is doomed to failure because of the experiences of failure or success that we all go through. (There is more on this in the previous post). Psychologists have also pointed out that life circumstances only account for 10% of our overall level of happiness.

Keller helpfully points out that as a result of this we move to precarious secondary strategies to deal with disappointment in not finding joy. We may not even be aware we are doing it, but they are nevertheless powerful influences in our lives.

The lies we tell ourselves about joy

Our hearts are hungry for joy. We think it is our circumstances that need changing, but joy goes well beyond our circumstances as this powerful and joy-filled video illustrates:

As children we looked to all sorts of things for joy fulfilment. I gave some examples from my own life in the previous post.

The other huge area where this expresses itself is with romantic love. For me as a teenager growing up in an all boys school in England that was a huge subject to deal with. And it still is for anyone growing up.
As the poem says:

The search for joy

You and I are hungry for joy.

The 4 minute video below about Nick Vujicic we introduced in the last post illustrates how there is a form of happiness that is independent of our circumstances. Nick in this video has certainly experienced it.

There is a deep desire in our hearts for joy. At the same time there is also in our hearts a deep lack of joy that creates an intense internal longing. As C.S. Lewis says,

“There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious.”

Why is joy more important than happiness?

I don’t think it is a matter of semantics. We have looked at the importance of a happy disposition in life, but we also need to make a distinction between happiness and joy. What is the distinction?

The following 4 minute video of  Nick Vujicic who was born with no arms and legs is incredibly joyful:

Nick is able to show an incredible amount of happiness in spite of his apparent limitations because he has joy.

That joy empowers him, as he says on the video “to be thankful, to dream big and to never give up.”

Why Gratitude can be so Powerful

We have been looking at the importance of gratitude as a key to overall happiness in life (see previous post). We have also pointed out how psychologists have estimated that life circumstances only account for about 10% of a person’s overall level of happiness (see the happiness formula at Why I Am Working at Becoming a Happier Person).

HappinessAccording to psychologists, 90% of your overall level of happiness has to do with who you are and what you do. Intuitively we know life will always have its ups and downs and so it is dangerous to depend on your circumstances for happiness. And yet that is our natural default way of thinking. We need to intentionally change that.

Instead your relationships and your life practices are going to be the fuel for how you feel, not what is going on around you.

Therefore, no matter what the circumstances are, we need to be practising gratitude to fill the gap between what is happening around us and how we internally feel. (See also Which Way Are You Looking? Part 1 and Part 2). The reason is that even if things are apparently  going well in our lives we can still find ourselves unhappy.

This also explains why you can find unhappy people in what appear to be the best of circumstances.

The importance of gratitude in becoming a genuinely happier person

For much of my life I have been a ‘glass half-empty’ negative kind of person. I am not proud of that. Given a choice I will tend to find my mind drifting towards the worst case scenario. When they were younger some of my children gave me the nickname “Pudleglum”. 

HappinessPuddleglum is a fictional character from C.S. Lewis’ children’s novel, “The Silver Chair”. He is caricature of pessimissim and a bastion of gloomy fortitude.  (see post What Are The Forms of Major Depressive Disorder? and my own personal struggle with depressive thinking at the post Just As I Am).

However, over the years I have learnt there are certain habits and choices I can make that can profoundly influence my state of mind on a moment-by-moment basis. One of the most foundational is the cultivation of an attitude of gratitude.  I share my experience with you here for you to see if there is anything that resonates with you and you feel you can apply in your own life.

In November 2008 I went to hear a lecture by the psychologist Tal Ben-Sahar at an elite private school called Wellington College. In many ways that evening was a life-defining moment for me. At that evening I was challenged by Tal Ben-Sahar keeping a daily journal every night for several years. In that journal he recorded at least 3 things that he was grateful for. I was so inspired that evening I made a decision, with the help of God’s grace, to do that as well.