There is a causal relationship between your perceived quality of life and the quality of human relationships you invest yourself into. You will live a more fulfilling life if you are able to share your experiences with others in a meaningful way. There is an adage that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
In Sebastian Junger’s book, Tribe, he describes the many ailments associated with living a comfortable life in a location that is densely packed with human activity. He explains that the modern day mental illnesses including depression, PTSD, and the general disconnection felt is due to our overly comfortable, connected, and populated societies.
He explores research, which suggests that tribal societies led much happier lives with lower rates of depression and suicide. He considers the role of “intrinsic” human happiness versus’ “extrinsic”. He explains that mental health issues do not decline with growing wealth. In fact, the more an individual relies on extrinsic values to supply happiness (for example; beauty, money, and status) the more likely they are to develop depression over their lifetime. As one researcher put it “the economic and marketing forces of modern society have engineered an environment… that maximizes consumption at the long-term cost of well being”. When we lead a sedentary, overfed, sleep-deprived life void of challenge and exposure to the earth’s natural environment we are putting ourselves in a position to be unhappy.
He also points out that hardship, including war, plays a pivotal role in contributing to a decrease in crime, depression, and suicide. For it is during times of crisis, challenge, and hardship when we are forced to focus on the well being of our family, our peers, and our tribe. Noticing they trends emphasize the fact that human relationships matter. If you are having a difficult time making yourself happy, try making someone else happy first.
Evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar describes the notion of the maximum number of relationships we can meaningfully manage as Dunbar’s Number. He argued that humans could sustain more relationships than apes because our neocortex was larger. It requires significant cognitive effort to socialize with other primates, and so this was a large contributing factor to a number of friendly relationships an ape could behold at any given time. Due to our larger neocortex, Dunbar estimated that humans could sustain no more than roughly 150 people at any time. If we take on more than this number, it will equate to the degradation of our existing relationships.
These themes point to the fact that you cannot be everything to everyone. It is best to focus on the intrinsic forces, rather than extrinsic, as they are a more reliable contributor to long-term wellbeing. In order to take a proactive approach to your happiness and fulfillment, you’ll need to be realistic about your lifestyle, relationships, and social expectations.