We long for belonging because we are made to belong to each other. In South Africa, the word, Ubuntucomes from the Zulu language. Its root means “I am because of you,” or we are not totally human without one another, and because we have the other, we are made whole in our humanity and become fully human, fully awake, and fully alive. Understanding the true meaning of Ubuntumeans understanding how openheartedness, compassion, and interrelatedness are essential and foundational to our well-being and all of our relationships, both personal and professional.
As a psychologist, marriage and family therapist, bereavement and child specialist, I am dedicated to bringing joy and healing to relationships of all types. As an attachment therapist, I understand, at a very fundamental level, the vital role and influence relationships play throughout a lifetime and beyond. The impact of a secure or insecure relationship sounds a gong that, for generations, echoes and reverberates into the future. For good or ill, the impression made is structured into our DNA, our body, our health, our actions, and our attitudes. Most importantly, it is stamped into the capacity of future generations to love and be loved.
The science of interpersonal neurobiology studies the science of relationships. It proposes that from our birth, the development of our brain, body, and even our thinking and emotional states, are shaped and sculpted either by others’ love and care or by the absence of those vital elements. Relationships in both our professional and personal lives determine our success or failure, our happiness or despair, and our health or our illness. The findings are conclusive and well proven. The amazing on-going, seventy-five-year-old Harvard Study of Adult Development, begun in the 1930s, has found that good relationships keep us healthier and happier. The study has proven the absence of loving, compassionate, caring relationships, with those whom we trust and love, impacts not only our level of happiness and satisfaction, but also our wellness.
On the world happiness ranking scale, out of 140 nations in the world, the United States ranks 108. The 2018 study ranked Finland as the happiest. Also, among the top ten happiest countries are New Zealand, Canada, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway. All of the top ten happiest countries share in common a focus on social, gender, and financial equality to ensure well-being for all. The higher-ranked happiness countries seem to be ones whose governments are connected in a partnership with, and are responsive to, the needs of their people. They are the most socially progressive countries with the least corruption. The lower the happiness ranking of a country, the less emphasis there is on meeting the needs of the many. Rather, value is placed on a “zero sum” philosophy that prioritizes and justifies the needs and self-interested actions of the individual above the needs of the many.
What makes usdeeply happy as individuals, like countries, is understanding and having deeply connected, reciprocal, positive relationships meeting our and the other’s needs. Richard Davidson, a leading neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin has identified the “happiest man in the world.” His name is Matthieu Ricard. He is a sixty-nine-year-old scientist and a Tibetan Buddhist monk, who has spent many years with the Dalai Lama. Davidson conducted twelve years of research on the monk and labeled him “the world’s happiest man.” His research found “Ricard’s brain produced a level of gamma waves—those linked to positive consciousness, attention, learning, and memory—never reported before in neuroscience literature.” Ricard’s recorded brain waves denoting happiness were at a level 800 times higher than ever recorded.
When Ricard spoke at the World Economic Form, and when he speaks to world business leaders around the globe, his advice is to stop thinking me, me, me.He said, “Thinking only about yourself and how to make things better for you is exhausting and stressful and ultimately leads to unhappiness… because when you think that way, you perceive everyone else as a threat to you getting what you want, and that will make you miserable. Instead let your mind be filled with benevolence and contentment.”
Ricard’s advice to world leaders is well supported by neuroscientific research. We now know the brain can be rewired for positivity. Individuals can break out of self-focused, negative thought patterns by taking fifteen minutes a day to quietly think only happy thoughts and thoughts of gratitude. Both in our business and personal lives, if we seek to, we can become an example of Ubuntu—of openheartedness, kindness, and compassion. We can develop and understand that “I’m because of you”and “You are because of me.” In relationships, we cannot snarl and snap protectively over our bone for fear others will snatch it from us. Rather, benevolence, kindness, and caring for others grows a bud that flowers into happiness and fulfillment.
Here is the big, important thought. Ultimately, we are not separate, one from the other. What we do to the other, we inflict upon our self. Through our anger and our forgiveness, with our hurt and with our tenderness, through our tears and with our joy, in each relationship, we co-create each other, and a new, ever-developing self, capable of true honesty and true love. By seeing through the illusion of separateness, we begin to understand that, through our love or our anger, we shape and form each other and are inseparable. It is only when led hand-in-hand by compassion and love, we find what we are truly longing for… the happiness and exquisite joy of belonging to one another.