The Gift of Sight

I believe the greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen by them, heard by them, to be understood and touched by them. The greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand and to touch another person. When this is done I feel contact has been made.
— Virginia Satir

I'm big on attachment. We were biologically designed to attach to others. We make sense of who we are and the outside world through the lens of how we experience attachment.  Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, defines attachment in this way:

Attachment is about two things: a safe haven of security and a lauching pad in which you can go and explore the world. It’s not just about connection but about connection and exploration.
— Dr. Dan Siegel

The 4 markers (S's) of healthy attachment according to Dr. Siegel are the following: an individual feels Seen, feels Safe, has the ability to be easily Soothed when in distress and a sense of Security is developed. He explains, "When children feel seen, safe, and soothed, they feel secure and they thrive."

Individuals who are characterized with healthy attachment are able to look at the events of their life and create a coherent narrative which allows them to be fully present and engaged in life, internally and externally. In other words, as Dr. Siegel says, "Presence allows for interpersonal and internal attunement."

4 S’s of attachment: Seen, Safe, Soothed and Secure

When children feel seen, safe, and soothed, they feel secure and they thrive.
— Dr. Dan Siegel

This type of relationship formed through secure attachment is the number one factor for our happiness and well-being. Robert Waldinger, psychiatrist and director of a 75-year-old Harvard study on adult development, summarizes their findings: "Good relationships keep us happier and healthier."

This study showed that having someone you can safely rely upon helps with nervous system relaxation and reduces emotional pain. The correlation then is that those who feel lonely will most likely see a decline in physical health and die younger. 

Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
— Robert Waldinger

Waldinger emphasizes depth over breadth of relationship and it is not limited to romantic either. He says that the "quality of your close relationships" matters. Is there depth and honesty? Are you able to fully relax and be vulnerable, letting yourself to be seen for who you are?

If this is the foundation of our happiness and well-being, it is crucial to pay attention to our what our relationships demonstrate about our attachment styles. You may feel disconnected from your own emotional life or the emotional life of others. Or you're anxious and uncertain in your relationships, experiencing inner emotional turmoil. Maybe you find that most of your relationships are not trustworthy, seem shallow to you and you withhold much of yourself.

If this is the case for you, you are not alone. We may have learned that it is not safe to be in relationships. To be seen meant there would be harm. Or we were shamed for wanting closeness and thus could not be soothed. There is nothing inherently wrong with you because you struggle to make and have meaningful relationships of depth and trust. But if it's true that securely attached relationships provide us with happiness and well-being, then please do yourself the honor of learning what it could be like to feel seen, safe, soothed and secure. For many, they begin to discover and taste this type of relationship in the presence of a counselor and find that this experienced security then translates to other relationships. Being seen is available to you and it makes all the difference. 

Hygge it out

I know I'm late to the hygge game. My apologies. While there isn't an exact translation in English, as best as authors can explain, the Danish word means feeling cozy, "like you've gotten a hug, just without the physical touch" (Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge), or "an appreciation of the simple pleasures in life" (Signe Johansen, How to Hygge). 

The qualities that define hygge are simplicity, happiness, balance, beauty and quiet. Along the way we've decided that the pursuit of hygge is the pathway towards happiness. 

Happiness has become a barometer of how well we're doing at life. If this is true, the majority of Americans are failing. The World Happiness Report ranks the U.S. at 19th among the 34 countries measured. This would make one think the appropriate step is to find ways to curate more happiness in one's life.

But what if the point is not to secure individual happiness? What if happiness is actually the source of the problem?

In an interview for Scientific American, Emily Esfahani Smith explains, "The happiness frenzy distracts people from what really matters, which is leading a meaningful life. Human beings have a need for meaning. We’re creatures that seek meaning, make meaning, and yearn for meaning. The question is—how can we lead a meaningful life? The route to meaning lies in connecting and contributing to something bigger than yourself—and not in gratifying yourself and focusing on what you, yourself, need and want, as the happiness industry encourages us to do.”

To be clear, Esfahani Smith "[doesn’t] think there’s anything wrong with feeling happy, but [she] think[s] that setting happiness as your goal and relentlessly chasing it can lead to problems."

Because so many of us are struggling to understand our ‘why’, I think we’re turning to false substitues for meaning.
— Emily Esfahani Smith

She expounds on those problems. "Research shows that there are millions of people who are unsure of what makes their lives meaningful—and that rates of suicide, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and drug addiction have been rising for decades. Because so many of us are struggling to understand our ‘why,’ I think we’re turning to false substitutes for meaning—like technology and the pursuit of happiness—to fill our existential vacuum."

We, as a culture, are restless, overloaded, consistently battle FOMO and consume to fill what is empty. Esfahani Smith finds that meaning evades us because we deny ourselves moments of reflection. It is difficult to reflect when you're constantly taking in and consuming. 

If reflection leads to meaning and meaning gives my life purpose, how does one acquire meaning? A requirement for a meaningful life is "being reflective, being present and aware of others" and this occurs through storytelling. Esfahani Smith explains, "Storytelling is the act of taking our disparate experiences and weaving them into a coherent whole—a narrative. Psychologists say that one of the building blocks of a meaningful life is coherence or comprehension. That means that people leading meaningful lives don’t conceive of their experiences as random and disconnected. They have worked hard to understand how their experiences fit together into a narrative that explains who they are how they got to be that way."

The concept of hygge is ultimately to be intentional towards giving and finding spaces to discover your narrative. Many people live disparate stories and it's reflected in their chaotic, busy and noisy comings and goings. Taking the time to sit to make meaning of one's experiences can lead to a life of simplicity, happiness, balance, beauty and quiet. In a culture that praises busyness, you must fight to have moments of togetherness, reflection, and quiet. Often times and for many people, this happens sitting across from a counselor who empathizes, supports, and holds your process as you seek to make sense of it.

And as you learn and grow to reflect and become a storyteller, perhaps meaning making will coincide with Fike (Swedish word for sitting down for coffee and cake).

How will you create daily rhythms of reflection in your life?