The Social Ground

We are continuously motivated to improve ourselves, to succeed, to grow. We believe in individualism and no matter what, we want to protect any achievements as our own. In the process any help offered is rejected instantly (and I am more guilty of that than most). When help is inevitable it leads to awkward moments, to the denial that “I don’t need it, but OK, if you insist!”. We have the continuous desire to end this theft of an interaction as soon as possible may we salvage some of the pride and glory that would come with the successful outcome for ourselves ALONE!

You think I am wrong or exaggerating? Come one, be honest. Have you ever imagined yourself receiving a gold medal with someone else standing next to you receiving an equality gold medal? Didn’t think so.

Threats & challenges

The reality is that as strong and powerful as we might think we are life will always prove us wrong sooner or later. I don’t think that is a negative thing, because it teaches us humility, appreciation and realism. Interestingly though, when difficulties come we tend to push others away because we are either embarrassed to admit in front of them that we are struggling (and that image of power will crumble) or because we believe we can deal with it and want all the recognition for ourselves. Another reason can be simply the fear of reaching out because we can be rejected. Whatever the reason there’s a common pattern of alienating ourselves from others in the times of struggle.

When we encounter a new challenge or threat, the only way to save ourselves is to hold on tight to the people around us and not let go. – Shawn Achor

Imagine that you have a lot of work and many of your home chores have been neglected because you don’t have time. Now a new project comes at work, a very “urgent and important” one. When you go home, what do you do? Your thoughts are filled with “what will happen if this fails”. The deadline is behind the corner and stress starts to build up. You begin working late, isolating everyone, eating alone, listening to music and avoiding any contact because “no one would understand” or “this is more important, I need to focus”. We start cutting time from everything. There’s no more space to relax in the evening, talk with family and friends and “let the steam out”. Even the emails or conversations become very short and impersonal.

As the deadline gets closer we are even more stressed and sinking into a void while reaching the goals stands further and further away. At this point we either manage to power through and hit the deadline, or fail which makes us feel miserable. Even if we make it, we are exhausted physically and mentally. And then, as it normally happens in life, another urgent task arrives. There’s no energy to deal with it, no friends around us to share the load since we isolated ourselves. Inevitably all this leads to burning out, depression or at least a long period of recuperation.

The most successful people, in times of difficulty take a tighter hold to their social support. – Shawn Achor

The Social Ground

The Harvard Men Study followed the lives of 268 men from the 1930s to present day. In 2009 George Vailant who directed the study summarized what is the difference between the men that had the fullest and happiest lives compared to those that didn’t. He said “love – full stop”.

70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world. – G. Vailant

He is not the only one that believes that and his study is not the only evidence:

Like food and air, we seem to need social relationships to thrive – Happiness (book)

It is very simple, when we have a circle of people we love and trust our emotional, intellectual, physical resources multiply.

Apart from the immediate boost we can get in difficult situations those interactions have a long lasting effect as well. Our baseline of positivity is raised and affects all spheres of our life through the new positive perception that we develop.

There’s only one main, consistent characteristic that distinguishes the happiest people from the rest – the strength of their social relationships. – The “Very Happy People” study

The reality is that like a seeds needs fertile soil, water and favourable conditions to thrive, so we as well need the right social context and the supporting social connections to grow and thrive. The denial of that is one of the things that can bring great harm in ones life. The embracing of it on the other hand can end up with stability, strength and fulfilment.

In the example with the gold medal, the  people the continue winning and growing are the ones that rely on a team of supporters – family, friends, teammates, coach. When the challenge of physical exhaustion from training or the monotony of simply training everyday for several hours arrives, the coach and that social support is what gets them through to the next period of zeal and motivation. Without it any of those athletes wouldn’t go as far as they do. Even if they do it wouldn’t be a sustained position, but a moment followed by a rapid decline.


As individuals we tend to close ourselves into a shell, believing that through our own efforts we can overcome whatever life throws at us. But time and again research and history has proven that the ones that succeed and excel are the people who depend on others, open up and share the load. We as a race would have never come to the point where we are now if we did not depend on each other.

Next time when you are in a difficult position, try to think about this point, embrace it and see how you can welcome others and share rather than close-in and push them away. This might be beneficial to them as well if they can relate to your situation and find themselves part of a friendly group that empowers them as well.

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