Happiness: It all begins with Authenticity and Vulnerability


Professor, Lecturer and author, Brene Brown

As a child, and still as an adult, some of my favorite tv show and movie moments where the ones where you would get a cross over episode or film, and characters from one of your favorites would pop in with your favorites from another and they’d kick ass together. As a kid I used to love it when Scooby Doo and the gang would be solving mystery movies and suddenly Batman or another member of the justice league appears. Or as an adult I would love it when I would be watching a Marvel movie like Thor Ragnarok and suddenly the Incredible Hulk shows up as well. I always loved it when my favorite characters joined forces. I promise this isn’t a random paragraph. 

The reason I bring this up is because today’s blog post is a bit of a cross over post in blog form. Unsurprisingly, as I continue to read and study the subject of happiness, I notice common themes across various thinkers, doctors, philosophers, religious figures and such. The more I discover these shared views on the subject of happiness, the happier I get, realizing that this is a shared goal and ideal to which all humans on some level aspire, and that though we may be vastly different, our understanding of happiness is universal. 

In this post, I will be discussing the human need for connection and intimacy with other humans as perhaps our greatest fundamental desire, and I will be doing so using the Dalai Lama, and Brene Brown, an American social worker, professor, and author. The Dalai Lama ensconced permanently in my pantheon of greatest thinkers of all time and based on what little I have seen of Brene Brown thus far, I think she is definitely one of my favorites as well. She hosted one of the most viewed Ted Talks of all time on the subject of vulnerability and I am can guarantee that I will be frequently discussing her ideas for the duration of my blog. 

This post came together somewhat organically as I just happened to come across their ideas on intimacy and connection by chance within the last 48 hours. The Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler were talking about the subject of intimacy in the chapter I happened to be re-reading at that moment in the Art of Happiness, and I just stumbled on this shorter talk of Brene Brown’s while I was searching for her more popular discussion of the greater subject of vulnerability. Seeing the similarities between their views on intimacy and connection compelled me to write about this almost immediately.  That a holy man from Tibet influenced by the Buddha, a man who lived roughly 2,500 years ago, and an American author and professor who currently teaches today all share similar views on happiness really excites me, knowing that this concept remains unified over multiple contents and thousands of years of human existence. 

Dr. Howard Cutler, co-author of The Art of Happiness

  In the Art of Happiness, Dr. Howard Cutler, who co-authored the book with HHDL quotes researcher Eric Fromm, saying that humankind’s most basic fear is the fear of being separated from others. Brene Brown recognized the same and correctly describes it as shame. The fear of disconnection, that there is something about others, that should they see, they won’t like us for, and will ostracize us for. Psychologist John Bowlby, also being cited by Dr. Cutler, said that our intimate attachments are that from which we draw strength and enjoyment out of life. Because this is our greatest desire, our greatest fear naturally becomes not having that. Brene Brown discussed that in her work as a social worker, that whenever she would discuss the subject of happiness, intimacy, or togetherness, her clients would naturally share an experience that was the exact opposite: of sadness, shame, or disconnect. 

I think that most of us can agree that our greatest desire is to be liked, loved, and respected by others, and we spend most of our lives going about, in different ways of course, trying to achieve exactly like that. If you will recall my post on Anthony De Mello, who warned us of attachments and to first love ourselves, you will recognize how this incredible need to be connected with, close to, and intimate with others can be dangerous. When our happiness lies outside of ourselves, we put ourselves in a position to be hurt. Well, turns out he is right, both Brene Brown and HHDL actually tell us that the path to intimacy begins within ourselves and will move outwards to others in the process, and also that opening ourselves up to that chance of being hurt, our vulnerability, is one of the things that makes that intimacy worth having. 

It all begins within you, within ourselves. Brene (just Brene from now on, you know who I mean) noted in her research that there were two distinct groups: those who had a strong sense of love and belonging, and those who lacked that sense. The only difference, was that those who had the sense of love and belonging, believed that they were worthy of love and belonging. What these people have is courage. Courage, Brene tells us, is the ability to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. This is echoed by Dr. Dan McAdams (whom I also came across in the Art of Happiness) who said that the desire for intimacy is the desire to share one’s innermost self with another. This takes vulnerability. The willingness to put ourselves out there. To be intimate, we must share ourselves for who we really are, and to do so we must be courageous and willing to be vulnerable, for the potential of rejection. If we refuse to be truly vulnerable, to put our real selves out there, we will never have true intimacy. 

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama speaks of vulnerability similarly, though he doesn’t directly use that word. When asked by Dr. Cutler if he (HHDL) ever felt loneliness, he replied no. Saying that “I think one factor is that I look at any human being from a more positive angle, I try to look for their positive aspects. This attitude immediately creates a feeling of affinity, a kind of connectedness. On my part there is less apprehension, less fear, because that kind of fear and apprehension is absent there is a kind of openness.” Look at him being vulnerable. What he’s describing is the feeling of being ok being vulnerable in order to make a deeper connection. “if you approach others with the thought of compassion” he says, “your attitude towards other changes automatically. If you approach others with the thought of compassion it will automatically reduce fear and allow an openness with other people… with that attitude you can approach a relationship in which you yourself initially create the possibility of receiving affection or a positive response.” 

It all begins with you! You cannot have an intimate, close, relationship, romantic or platonic without making the decision first yourself to be open and vulnerable. Remember carefully the words of Anthony De Mello, urging us not to let our happiness depend on our attachments, not even a romantic partner or close friend. By all means I agree, do not let that be your everything. Happiness must begin within. I do however agree though that our greatest need is to find intimacy and togetherness in some form and that this very likely is the ultimate attainment of happiness. This too must begin within, because until you learn to love yourself as perfectly imperfect, as exactly who you are, you will not be able to find intimacy in another. And god forbid, should something happen in that intimacy, you must remember to be strong, and love in yourself. The loss will heart, that is inevitable, and to feel that pain does not mean to be unhappy. That loss means you have loved and are happy, to numb that feeling of loss would be to neglect the feeling that was the happiness in that love. Begin with yourself. Love yourself, understand that you are enough, and that you are worthy. Be courageous, courageous enough to share your true self with the world, in response you let the world know that it is ok and safe to open up to you, and in this way you create the possibility of true happiness. I hope you find it. 

Link to the Art of Happiness which heavily inspired today’s post: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0043VDI6A/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Link to one of Brene Brown’s many Ted talks, this one was the inspiration for today’s post: https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability?language=en#t-1199206

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