The spiritual community often refers to the importance of having presence in our daily life, suggesting that by actively noting what we give our attention to, we can begin to choose whether it’s worth that attention or not. Now, it’s not too often that we’re told to pay attention to others, or that by doing so, we’re helping them to better their life. But let’s face it — most humans need connection and interaction to thrive.
We wrote about the importance of connection in “Harvard’s Epic 75 Year Study Reveals What Men Need to Live a Happy Life.” We discuss Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant, who directed the study from 1972 to 2004 and who stresses that relationships are virtually the most important thing for a man in terms of finding joy in life. “Joy is connection… The more areas in your life you can make connection, the better,” he says.
Now, take a moment to recap the last interaction you had with someone. Think about the weightless pleasantries we offer each other. It’s likely the beginning of your last conversation started off with a How’s everything going? met with an Everything’s good. Neither parties in this interaction got any truth from one another, and in turn, welcomed no vulnerability. The result is both parties cut off their ability to be themselves and connect on a deep level.
In her Ted Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” Dr Brené Brown describes the importance of letting our guard down. She says, “They had connection . . . as a result of authenticity. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be, in order to be who they were.” She then leaves her audience with four pieces of advice to practice daily:
- Let yourself be seen.
- Love with all your heart with no guarantee
- Practice Gratitude in joy; in moments of terror and fear, be grateful
- Believe that you are enough
These four points also remind me of a recent article I read by psychotherapist Katherine Schafler, who talks about Maya Angelou’s theory that each of us asks each other four questions unconsciously all the time. These questions aren’t exclusive to the people we love and see every day in our lives, but extend to any basic interaction we have with another being.
These questions we ask each other are silent, but when the answer to each of them is yes (and you’ll know), it translates to a ‘positive’ emotion — love, in essence. This then reinforces the feeling that, because this individual has acknowledged our presence, we are worthy of love. On the contrary, if these questions go unanswered, or even worse, are a no, we can feel disconnected. And if this comes from a romantic partner, problems quickly arise, usually in some form of drama where unconsciously we’re begging for attention.
These are the four questions:
- Do you see me?
- Do you care that I’m here?
- Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
- Can I tell that I’m special to you by the way that you look at me?
One perfect example that Katherine shares relates to our relationship with dogs. She argues the reason we love dogs so much is that they always answer these questions for us. I mean, I thought I loved dogs because they are unbearably adorable and are the epitome of unconditional love, but now I wonder, do these four questions translate into unconditional love?
Each of us crave the acknowledgment of being appreciated, and you can offer this to anyone in your life just by practicing the act of being present. Our society has us so checked out of reality, and with the rise of smart phones and social media, it’s no wonder the rates of teenage depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. Teens are not being seen enough by one another and certainly aren’t seeing their family the way life intended.
Katherine’s article is aptly titled “How to Change Your Life in One Second Flat,” because the answer to our problem of lack of attention and appreciation is that simple: Be present in your everyday life. When you are speaking with someone look at them, really acknowledge their presence and be attentive to what they have to say. Speak authentically and considerably. Allow yourself to be seen and felt so that the person you’re with can do the same for you.
We cannot continue to live our daily lives mindlessly, allowing for mundane thoughts and problems to occupy our headspace and being. Beautiful moments happen every single day and often, by the people we love. Imagine being three years old and having your mother or father feeding you and engaging with someone on the phone or on the other side of the table and never making eye contact with you once. How would that shape a child? This whole mentality of presence with each other reinforces the theory that we are all deeply connected, that we truly need one another to not only survive on this planet, but to thrive.