Happiness & Attachments – Part 2Posted: September 23, 2007
For the sake of brevity, I cut my initial treatise on this subject short. Because of some feedback that I’ve received, I’ve felt the need to write on it again. I will here be focusing on a specific form of attachment, that of human relationships, although some of the principles discussed may also have bearing on other forms of attachment.
You may have come away from reading Part 1 thinking that I advocate dropping relationships at the first sign of trouble. That wasn’t my intended message. I will here attempt to clarify myself. In human relationships, reciprocation is generally expected from the object of our attachment. This is not seen with most other types of attachments. For reciprocation to occur, the attachment needs to be mutual, since without reciprocation, it is difficult to maintain such a relationship. There are cases where this does happen. The case of a parent caring for their autistic child comes to mind. The autistic child may be incapable of reciprocating on an emotional level, yet the parent continues to care for them. In situations like this, the bond is lop-sided. The parent’s attachment must compensate for their child involuntary lack of reciprocation. This isn’t the type of relationship a parent is free to escape without the rightful scorn of society. So, if nothing else, there are external pressures keeping such attachments together. This isn’t necessarily the case with friendships, romantic relationships, and business relationships. In these types of relationships, equal reciprocation is commonly required for the longevity of the relationship.
In friendships and romantic relationships, our attachments are primarily emotional. In business relationships, logic might have more governance, but emotions still have a large part to play. Logic has little to no control over emotion. We can use our logic to extricate ourselves from a relationship, but our emotions will still hang on. They may fade with time and eventually go dormant, but the seed still remains and may reawaken when thoughts of that person enter our conscious mind.
Emotions are unpredictable. They can change on a whim or stand strong for years. Relationships are highly dependent on this capricious governor commonly referred to as our heart, so if we want long lasting relationships we must learn to cope with it. There are two things which create emotional attachments: comfort and excitement. These are polar opposites. New things bring excitement, while old things bring comfort. All new relationships eventually grow old, thus moving from exciting into comfortable. We have an internal need for both excitement and comfort. Many of us move from relationship to relationship because we are driven more by the need for excitement than the need for a comfortable stable relationship. This isn’t a really a sustainable or satisfying way of living. Not everyone can rely on finding both comfort and excitement in one person for the rest of their lives, so for most of us we need to seek out several relationships to fulfill our needs. Note that I’m not referring strictly to romantic relationships here, although I’m not opposed to the idea of multiple romantic partners, so long as none of the parties involved are expecting exclusivity.
Sometimes we may find we have to take a break from a relationship. This time away allows both persons time to become somewhat new to each other again. Then, after considerable time apart, when we reunite we get the excitement of meeting someone new, but at the same time, the comfort of having known them for a long time. This doesn’t always work out nicely though. Sometimes when we take time apart, when we meet again, we find that we have both grown in quite separate directions.
To conclude, there is a strong link between happiness and attachments. We can’t expect any attachment to endure and bring us the same amount of happiness continuously. The question really is, “Are we meant to be perpetually happy?” In art, I often find myself being most drawn to pieces having the strongest contrasts. How can we really appreciate the good times, without the contrasting backdrop of pain, disappointment, loneliness, and sorrow? Why were we humans given tear ducts if we were never meant to use them?
Please let me know your thoughts on the topic. They may fuel a Part 3.