The Umpteen Ways to Satisfy Our Deep Need to Belong

The entire book is below. The chapter headings are to the side.

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It took me years to figure out what makes a person happy and write it all down. Then I thought I’d better provide examples. After all, it’s no use explaining the nature of happiness and leaving it at that. That would be like listing the ingredients of a pavlova and not bothering to explain how to cook the thing. So, I had to:
(i) Explain where happiness comes from. (It comes from satisfying ongoing innate needs.)
(ii) I then had to explain what the hell that means.
(iii) It then made sense to explain how we can satisfy those needs. How to cook the pavlova, so to speak.

Fortunately, I ignored every possible study that could prove my case. That kept me honest.

The end result was a tome so big I split it into three:
The Umpteen Keys to Resilience
The Umpteen Ways to Satisfy our Deep Need to Belong
The Umpteen Happiness Myths

  (Do you notice a pattern?)

Is this book with the interminable title for you?
It is, if you are:
– young.
– interested in a fresh approach to the big question, What makes a person happy?
– a parent or guardian aiming to give a child guidance.
– someone who wants to feel that they matter.

But if you want to be told what thoughts to think and what emotions to feel, forget it. There are plenty of authors out there willing to tell you what to think and feel. You don’t need me.

And, if you want to be told to love yourself then leave this site now. You won’t find banalities like that here.

This book is about changing our awareness and our behaviours, because that’s all we really can change. And that’s what gets results.

If this book appeals, join me. You and I. All of us. We are all in this together.

Mark Avery.

‘We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.’
G. K. Chesterton.

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How I came to write this book.

It’s the 1960s in Ashwood, an outer suburb of Melbourne. Weatherboard house on a dirt road. Nearby are paddocks agisting horses, and with ponds full of tadpoles. My sisters and I had good, responsible, loving parents, although they argued ferociously, and often.

Well, Mum did.

An argument would take hours to brew. We could see the change in Mum: the lapses into silence, the snide remark at Dad, the grumpiness . . . It was like watching a thunderstorm approach. Finally, the storm would break with Mum’s thunder and her torrent of tears.

Dad just sat there and took it. Neither parent was physically violent, but Dad didn’t know how to respond to the abuse and accusations he received. When he spoke he was shouted down, and when he silently accepted the abuse Mum only became more heated.

The arguments were mainly about Dad’s mother.

The storm would last for two or three days, and then the sun would rise. But we kids were always alert for signs of the next big argument, in the hope that we could somehow, in some way, prevent it.

I was a conscientious, well behaved boy who struggled with school work. Looking back I can see I was always anxious: anxious of being asked a question by the teacher, of falling further behind in my assignments, of looking stupid, of being in trouble because I didn’t do my homework, of having to repeat a year, of Mum raging again . . . Anxious in general.

I didn’t know I was anxious at the time. I had nothing to compare it with.

The years of unrelenting skin-itching eczema didn’t help. Nor did the unceasing hay-fever that made my nose constantly run. I would leave school at lunchtime to go home and change my four sodden handkerchiefs. I’d have to change them again when I got home from school.

Bouts of asthma gave me regular reprieves from the anxiety of school, brought on if I laughed too heartily, chased a football too earnestly, or for reasons never discerned. Asthma and its bronchitis kept me in bed for two or three weeks at a time. When I returned to school I was even further behind in my schoolwork. I accepted that. Once you reach a certain level of being discouraged, you plateau. You don’t get worse; you get used to the feeling. It’s how life is.

I loved a girl for the entire six years of primary school, but didn’t believe I had the right to tell her. My constant, day-to-day longing for her drained me.

Then came high school, which meant I could endure it all again at the next level. Though, in high school they can fail you, so it took me eight years to do six years’ schooling.

I tell you this not to get your sympathy. I know full well that countless, countless people have had a much harder time in life. Compared to most children, I was fortunate. I had it good. My father used to say how lucky my sisters and I were, and I could see it was true. I was well fed, well schooled, well loved, well looked after, and I didn’t have to worry about famine, disease or invasions. I knew I was lucky. It all made sense.

What I could not understand was why I wished I had not been born.

I wasn’t depressed. I was not suffering the teenage angst other kids were going through. I was a positive, cheery, cooperative, conscientious lad who doggedly and good-naturedly got through life. I knew I was lucky. I just couldn’t actually feel it.

It was a puzzle I pondered.

I tried hard to be glad about being born. When I had an exceptionally good day I would ask myself, ‘Now, Mark, aren’t you glad you were born?’ The answer was invariably ‘Well, no. Today is a good day, but gee, it would be better if I hadn’t been born.’

Then one day, when I was fifteen years of age, something extraordinary happened. In my life I had been used to failure: with schoolwork, in sport, in health, in love . . . I had accepted failure as a part of who I was, in the same way an Indian ‘untouchable’ accepts his low status – he shrugs and gets on with life. With no resentment I accepted my lot, and remained that cheery, conscientious, good-natured lad described above.

I had been an ardent supporter for a struggling football team called Hawthorn. In 1971 the team won match after match. How could this be? My team, winning? Vicariously I was enjoying success!

I didn’t get my hopes up. I viewed the team’s success like the coach did: one week at a time.
 But then Hawthorn made the finals! How proud I was!

They progressed to the Grand Final!

It didn’t seem right, but there it was: a whole section in the newspaper devoted to the club. Still, I had not yet tasted success, in any capacity, so to even hope for success was difficult for me.

And then came that extraordinary day in September.
 That afternoon I listened to the radio commentary of the Grand Final in which my team, Hawthorn, defeated St Kilda to win the premiership! What joy! What inexpressible joy!

A weight was lifted. It sounds absurd, but that win was a turning point in my life. On that day I learned that I, Mark Avery, was not synonymous with failure. I had not been put on this Earth to experience no success.

Admittedly, the success I felt could in no way be attributed to me, yet that didn’t matter. I barracked for Hawthorn and that made me part of the club. Success was ours!

Minutes after the final siren, midst my euphoria, midst the happiest day of my life (up until then) I asked myself the question, ‘Now, Mark, surely it’s good to be alive! Surely you are glad you were born!’

The answer came quickly and easily. ‘No. It would be better had I not been born.’

That did it. I had tried to appreciate my life. I had tried to be grateful I had been born. I had tried to repay my parents for having me and raising me, by feeling grateful for my life. I had failed. If in the midst of euphoria I still could not appreciate how lucky I was to be alive, then I would never ‘get it’. I might as well stop asking the question and just get on with life.

And that’s what I did.

I cannot remember how long my euphoria lasted, but I do know that my allegiance to the Hawthorn Football Club will last my lifetime.

A few years later I left school and had a series of jobs. At twenty-five I enrolled in a university as a mature age student and began an Arts Degree. My sister, Jane, became chronically depressed and she killed herself at the age of thirty.

I felt like I had failed her, so when a few years later I had to write an article about what makes a person happy, I grabbed the opportunity with gusto. But to answer the question I felt obliged to ask myself that older question, the question I hadn’t asked myself since my euphoria in 1971: ‘Mark, are you glad you were born?’

To my astonishment the answer was yes.

Yes??! That prompted another question: ‘Mark, are you happy?’


Huh? Was I actually happy?

Yes, I was.

I looked back to my life as a child. I realised that at the time I had been unhappy, though I hadn’t realised it at the time. Like when I was anxious, I had nothing to compare it with. As I write this I wonder how many children are anxious, or unhappy, or happy, or hateful, or curious, . . . and don’t know it, because they have nothing to compare it with.

Why was I happy now? Was it because I was older? I had heard that theory somewhere. But that wouldn’t explain why some people were happy in their childhood, but unhappy in adulthood.

What had changed with me? What had made me happy?

I had to figure that out, and found that many of the ideas put forth by the happiness gurus didn’t apply to me: I didn’t have close relationships with family or friends; I didn’t have high self-esteem; my life was not filled with love and compassion; I didn’t consciously apply positive thinking; I had no real purpose in life; and, the warm glow I received from being kind had died years ago.

Yet, I was happy.

To write the article I had to ditch much of what the gurus said about happiness, and start afresh. That helped me discover what really does make a person happy. It turns out, I got lucky. I inadvertently had been doing what it takes to make a person happy.

So, what does it take?

It’s obvious when you think about it. 
 See you in Part 1.

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Part 1. The Deep Need to Belong.

Pleasure is one type of happiness. We can eat a chocolate and be happy for a few seconds, after winning a contest we can be happy for days, and newly-weds can be happy for months. Then we return to our normal day-to-day feeling of wellbeing, when nothing in particular is happening. That ‘normal’ state is what I call our core happiness. It’s our default happiness. It’s the happiness we were born with. It’s innate.

So, we have the temporary happiness we get from pleasure, and we have core happiness. It’s good to distinguish between the two so that we can ask ourselves the question the Dalai Lama asks himself when he has a decision to make: ‘Will it bring pleasure, or happiness?’

Both forms of happiness are important. Life would be drab and pointless without pleasure, and a strong core happiness is the lubricant of life.

In the same way we evolved our lungs and ankles, we evolved both forms of happiness – the temporary kind we get from pleasure, and the core kind.

A disclaimer about the way I talk about evolution.
I might write, ‘Evolution wanted us to cool ourselves in the heat, so we evolved sweat glands.’ No, evolution does not want us to do anything; it’s not a sentient being. It’s a process. And, we didn’t magically create sweat glands to keep us cool.

Very basically: all creatures are born with (mostly mild) random mutations, and occasionally a mutation benefits the creature enough to increase its chances of surviving long enough to mate and pass on its genes. If the creature does survive long enough to pass on its genes, that mutation might also get passed on, and the entire species might eventually have that mutation.

When I and other writers use misleading expressions like, ‘We evolved to . . .’ and ‘Evolution wants us . . .’ please be forgiving. We use those expressions because they are a convenient way to refer to the process of natural selection.

The evolution of pleasure: When we play we improve our skills, so that when we come to hunt or fight we have a better chance of succeeding. That means play is good for us, and pleasure is our evolutionary reward for engaging in that behaviour. 
 We also evolved to find basking in the sun pleasurable, because it’s good for us. Its warmth reduces our need to consume calories and it is a good way to get Vitamin D. When we get too warm and our body needs to cool, we find pleasure in the shade. Again, that cool pleasure is our reward for adopting that sensible behaviour.

In a nutshell, we evolved pleasure and displeasure to guide us into behaving in ways that benefit us, and our species.

The evolution of core happiness: There are also long-term, ongoing behaviours which benefit our species. But evolution cannot reward long-term, ongoing behaviours with instantaneous pleasure; it can only reward them with long-term, ongoing pleasure: a relaxed, general feeling of wellbeing –core happiness. Core happiness is the incentive, and reward, for engaging in those ongoing behaviours.

What long-term, ongoing behaviours are we talking about?

Here is one: in pre-history, our pre hominid ancestors had to leave the safety of the tribe to hunt food and find resources. Dangers awaited them. If they felt too anxious to leave the tribe they would starve. If they felt too cocky they would take too many risks and find themselves dead. Our ancestors had to get the right balance – they had to put themselves into scary situations, yet feel able to handle them.

There were also fears in the tribe itself: of injury, of going hungry, of humiliation, of shame. A myriad of fears. There were so many fears that feeling able to handle those fears – feeling resilient – became a long-term, ongoing need. Satisfying that long-term, ongoing need was rewarded with core happiness.

When we don’t feel that we can handle what happens in life we feel anxious and unhappy. That’s evolution’s way of nudging us to change the situation.

There are many ways to satisfy that need for resilience, and it has its own book, ‘The Umpteen Keys to Resilience’. The book you are reading now is about satisfying another ongoing innate need: what some people call the deep need to belong.

Hominids born with an inclination to live in a tribe were more likely to be safe from predators, and less likely to starve. (Those who found food could share with those who didn’t.)

‘The best way to store food is in another man’s stomach.’

Bushman’s proverb.

Having that inclination made them more likely to live long enough to pass on their genes, while those disinclined to live in tribes were more likely to starve or be eaten. So, over time, most hominids evolved the inclination to live in groups, or tribes.

Let’s go a little deeper. What specific needs would we evolve that would prompt us to live in a tribe?
1. The need to feel connected with the tribe.
2. The need to feel that we contribute to the tribe.
3. The need to feel valued by the tribe.

(If, for example, an early hominid felt inclined to contribute to the tribe in some way – by sharing food, sharing ideas, sharing warmth and support – they were more likely to stay in the tribe and live long enough to pass on their genes.)

All three propensities provide the ‘social glue’ for keeping us in a tribe. When we satisfy those needs we satisfy our ‘deep need to belong’, and we are rewarded with core happiness.

If we don’t feel connected with one another, if we don’t feel valued, if we don’t feel that in some way we contribute to the tribe, then we feel isolated and anxious. Again, that’s evolution’s way of nudging us to change the situation.

The question might then be asked: in this technological, urbanised western world in which everyone is connected, why are so many of us unhappy?

Let’s examine that.

1. The need to feel valued by the tribe.
In a tribal society it is easy to feel valued because the work done is necessary and visible. Plus, with so few people to compete with, good workers are recognised and appreciated. Further, tribal members work with friends and relatives, not for employers, so their contribution means more. It’s appreciated more.

In our Western world it is hard to feel valued when your employer is focused upon increasing productivity. Even our colleagues may not notice our contribution, or in these competitive times, not want it. And, how many parents truly feel valued by their children, who are distracted by a surfeit of gadgets?

2. The need to feel we contribute to the tribe.

In pre-history, everyone was required to ‘do their bit’, and that bit was important. But in our society we don’t come home bearing food, we come home with . . . nothing. Food is already in the fridge, power is at the flick of a switch, and water is on tap . . . A bill payer’s contribution might be significant, but it’s taken for granted.

And, many of us get to see on television people who contribute so much more. That might prompt us to view our own contribution as insignificant.

And, of course, some of us don’t get to contribute. Unemployment benefits nourish the body, not the soul.

3. The need to feel connected to the tribe.
In a tribal society there are few secrets. Members co-operate and share with one another. There are few, if any, class systems. The strong kinship systems and the community get-togethers allow each person to feel connected. The village really does raise the child.

In our society our world is full of secrets. We focus more on competition than on co-operation. We have class and caste systems that divide people. (To even call someone our own age ‘sir’ creates a disconnection.) We don’t have strong kinship systems; we barely know our neighbours. We are taught to live privately and to mind our own business.

It’s no wonder many of us don’t feel connected.

‘We need to belong. The more we feel connected and belonging to a group, the happier we are. Unfortunately, we’ve moved into a ‘nuclear family’ model of culture, in which we’re supposed to get all our needs met by two parents (no more, no less), limited extended family, and the forced situation of various institutions depending on our stage of life (preschool, school, college/university, work, retirement homes – the list goes on.) It’s a far cry from the tribal structure we can still see in some countries like Africa, where children are loved and raised by everyone.
Crystal Woods.

Q. ‘But Mark, current technology connects us to anyone we want, anywhere in the world!’
Our technological connections are frequent and extensive, but are they satisfying? Consider: our close relatives, chimpanzees and gorillas, groom each other by picking leaves and lice from each other’s fur. It’s a form of social bonding. Our tweets, texts, Facebook and phone calls are mere primitive technological equivalents. Girls used to brush each other’s hair; now they text. Which do you think would be the more soul enriching?

In short, we evolved innate propensities to prompt us to live in a tribe. In a tribe we can satisfy those needs, but it’s harder to do that in Western society. As a result, many of us feel unsettled and unhappy.

But we can still satisfy those needs and our ‘deep need to belong’, and be rewarded with core happiness.

The ‘deep need to belong’ is why many of us support sports teams and political parties; it’s why we join clubs; it’s why we feel energised when someone supports our view. It’s why some of us feel a bond with fellow yachties, or criminals, or ex-patriots. It’s why ‘blood is thicker than water’ and it’s why we draw family trees.

And, our deep need to belong is one reason why so many otherwise smart people believe there is merit in astrology. It’s easy to feel connected with the universe if you choose to believe that balls of hydrogen and helium (stars) light years away contribute towards your personality.

Our deep need to belong explains why so many people believe that everything happens for a reason. It allows believers to feel they are ‘a thread in the tapestry of Life’, a part of some vast plan. These people are comforted by the belief that life and suffering have purpose, and that who we are and what we do matters.

Holding absurd beliefs, or being a one-eyed supporter of a sports team, is not the best way to satisfy that deep need to belong. Even being a family member is not sufficient. To feel connected with the tribe we need to feel connected not just with friends and lovers, but with everyone we meet – we need to feel connected with humanity. We need to feel that we belong. We need to truly believe that we really are ‘in this same boat in a stormy sea’ and that we do owe each other a ‘terrible loyalty’.

I present to you the umpteen keys that can satisfy our deep need to belong.

Kathleen Puckett wrote in the magazine, ‘New Scientist’, 4th September, 2011: ‘. . . During my 23-year stint as an FBI special agent, my colleagues and I looked into what Kaczynski, McVeigh and Rudolph (three mass murderers) had in common. The results were startling. All three were highly intelligent and well educated, with no previous history of criminal violence. But they all shared a profound inability to forge meaningful relationships.  . . .  (They were) all repeatedly unable to connect socially to the groups whose ideology they shared.’

If those murderers were unable to forge meaningful relationships, there is a good chance they were also unable to connect well with anyone, and would have been unable to satisfy their ‘deep need to belong’. That wouldn’t necessarily make them murderers, but could there be a connection?

Q. ‘Not all primates evolved to live in tribes. Orangutans didn’t. They’re mainly solitary creatures.’

The jungles in Borneo and Sumatra are so thick with trees the orangutans can travel freely, and rarely need to go to ground. That means they are less susceptible to predators (like tigers) and therefore less needful of a colleague’s warning. Further, they are vegetarians, so they don’t have the advantage of sharing a carcass. In fact, it’s to their disadvantage to form groups because food is often scarce in a rainforest. Although they do get together when trees offer an abundance of fruit, that isn’t often, and they could not permanently be together without starving.

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More about the deep need to belong.

In the past, the more we contributed to the tribe and felt valued for our contribution, the more likely we were to stay in the tribe and live long enough to pass on our genes. Heaven help the poor person who, during a famine, couldn’t contribute to the tribe, and wasn’t valued by the tribe. They might return from a hunt one evening and find the tribe gone.

But if I told you to ‘contribute’ or ‘feel valued’ or ‘feel connected’ that wouldn’t help. Nor would telling you to ‘be loved’ , ‘be appreciated’, or ‘become indispensable’. We don’t have control over such things, so it is no use making them keys.

Besides, most of us already instinctively find ways to do that: we make friends, find a partner, achieve, assist a neighbour . . .

We feel we are contributing when we:
▪ feel appreciated by our employer, or by our colleagues,
▪ act charitably, volunteer;
▪ achieve

A nineteen-year-old youth charged with arson was asked why he started bushfires, and then helped fire fighters put the fires out. Did he want the recognition? Did he want his name in the newspapers?
‘No,’ he replied. ‘It’s not that. I don’t need to see my name in the papers . . . I liked being needed to fight the fire.’

From the ABC Radio National program, ‘Bush Telegraph’, February, 2007

We feel valued when we:
▪ are appreciated, and thanked,
▪ are given a smile,
▪ are loved by a person, a loving god, a pet . . .

‘General Willard S. Paul once told me, with perfect sincerity, th
at the greatest moment of his life had been at the Battle of the Bulge when I put my arm around him and said, “How is my little fighting son of a bitch today?” He said that this remark inspired not only him, but every man in the division, and it is highly probable that it did.’

General George S. Patton, Jr. US Army. (From ‘Patton on Leadership’, by Alan Axelrod.)

We feel connected when we:
▪ experience all of the above,
▪ we wear a uniform,
▪ we feel comfortable being with people living different ways of life,
▪ are a member of a gang, tribe, team or clan.
▪ we don’t feel the need to earn the approval of others.

How does this book help, then?
 Let’s see.

Q. ‘Mark, if we like being valued, why don’t we boast about our achievements more often?’
Talking about your contribution might cheapen the value of another person’s contribution. Recognise your need to be valued, but don’t vie for attention, and don’t grab someone else’s glory.

‘The higher we soar, the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.’

Friedrich Nietzsche.

Q. ‘Why are there vandals? Why are there criminals? They’re not contributing; they’re not valued.’
Perhaps vandals feel valued by fellow vandals, in the same way gang members feel valued by each other.
‘Are you saying that kids in gangs engage in criminal behaviour to feel valued by other gang members?’

It’s probably one reason. A member of any gang (of lawyers, a sports team, a political party . . .) might act dishonourably to get approval from their peers.

Q. ‘Mark, you say we need to be valued. But voluntary workers don’t cartwheel for joy when a new day dawns. And Mother Theresa, who assisted the poor in Calcutta, was apparently one cranky lady writing angry letters to God.’

Three possible reasons:
1. Voluntary workers can become bored or habituated to the same gratitude.
2. They might not get enough appreciation to make the job enjoyable.
3. They might get all the appreciation they need and are sated quickly. We don’t need much. The farmer who grew the wheat for your breakfast cereal and for a million other breakfasts won’t experience your gratitude, but that farmer will still feel proud of their achievement, and feel they are contributing. We don’t need heaps of feedback. A little bit goes a long way. Normally.

Entertainers seem to need lots of affirmation.
‘And Mother Theresa? She would have felt valued by the people she nurtured. Why wasn’t she euphoric?’

The same. Either she didn’t feel appreciated, or she was sated. Perhaps her ‘cup was empty’ and she also needed nurturing.

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Part 2. The need to feel valued by the tribe.

‘Supposedly, the words we enjoy hearing most are, “I love you”. Not true. The words we most want to hear are, “Well done!”’
Peter the Heckler.

Imagine doing something wonderful, like inventing something special, or saving a person’s life, or winning an important contest. How would you feel?

It depends, doesn’t it? If your invention was lauded throughout the world, or if the person whose life you saved wept with gratitude, or if your audience gave you thunderous applause for your contest win, you would probably feel pleased. If they sneered at your invention, if the person whose life you saved walked away without a word of thanks, if everyone at the contest groaned, then you would feel pretty ordinary.

It’s not our achievements which give us pleasure, it’s being valued for them.

It’s the same with acts of kindness. The happiness gurus tell us that being kind can make us happier, yet how you would feel if the recipient of your kind act sneered at you instead of thanked you?

You might well feel lousy. Again, it’s not our acts of kindness which give us pleasure, it’s being valued for them.
 (Even when the recipient isn’t there to appreciate what we have done, we can imagine the person’s pleasure. That can be enough.)

Employees considerably value their employer’s recognition and praise.

Why do so many of us fear public speaking? After all, crowded footpaths indicate that we don’t fear the public, and we certainly don’t fear speaking.

At Speakers’ Corner I can have trouble getting a grasshopper (a listener) to shut up, but when I invite them to replace me on my platform they seize up and decline. Why is this?

There was a time when being abandoned by the tribe meant death. In some nomadic tribes the elderly members slowing the tribe were left behind to starve to death or be eaten by predators. Or, they were ‘mercifully’ clubbed to death on the spot.

No one wants to die. Those elders might have accepted their fate, having no choice in the matter, but would have dreaded the day as it approached. To prevent that day from coming they would have done their best to not be a burden.

Now imagine, dear reader, that you are a member of a tribe during a famine. You leave the tribe for a day and upon your return find the tribe gone. They have abandoned you. They now have one less mouth to feed. How would you feel? As you stand there shaking you might wonder: did they reject you because you were not pulling your weight? Or because they didn’t like you enough to share scarce food with you? Whatever the case, you would feel awful. Especially knowing that as a result of their rejection you will probably die.

Or, how you would feel if you were a hunter, and after days of unsuccessful hunting you yet again entered the camp with empty arms? Can you picture the tribe turning their eyes to you in hope, and see their look of hope turn to disappointment, and then to despair, when they find you have let them down?

In a tribe, the pressure to pull one’s weight (to contribute) and be appreciated (valued) for that contribution would be enormous. Particularly in hard times. Being valued by the tribe could mean the difference between life and death.

When the tribe turns its eyes to you it means there are expectations of you; expectations you may not be able to meet. Anxiety results: of letting the others down, of being a burden, of being rejected.

As we evolved over countless generations, that anxiety became innate. It’s no wonder many of us fear public speaking: the sight of the tribe’s eyes upon us stirs up primitive fears, primitive responsibilities.

The need to feel valued is strong within us. In some Papua New Guinean tribal societies a devastating punishment is to be ostracised. A person is ignored and made to feel invisible. In just a few hours that person can be reduced to a gibbering mess.

‘You are not my sister.’

Ostracism is also a cruel bullying tactic in Western society. In England there is a term for it. Schoolchildren can bring a child to racking sobs by shunning them, by ‘sending them to Coventry’. Employees refusing to strike are also ‘sent to Coventry’.

If we evolved to fear the tribe’s rejection it is no wonder that much of our behaviour is designed to avoid rejection, and to make ourselves feel valued. And, it’s why most of us fear becoming a burden.

If we didn’t care about what people thought of us we would become selfish and uncooperative. We would soon lose friends and support. Quickly we would be rejected. That would be harsh in today’s society, but millennia ago it might have meant rejection and death.

This all means: we evolved to feel insecure about what other people think of us; we evolved to have a fragile sense of self-worth. That ongoing insecurity stays with us and manifests as, for example:
– our need for status,
– our inclination to avoid confronting people, or earning their displeasure,
– our need to conform. (Or at least, not stand out.)
– our vulnerability to criticism and ostracism.
– our propensity to ignore twenty compliments yet deeply absorb one insult.

Our insecurity prompts us to do what is necessary to be accepted by others so that we can stay in the tribe. And, in our efforts to be accepted, our skills improve, and the tribe benefits.

When we succeed in feeling valued on a sustained level our anxiety diminishes. We feel more connected, and we satisfy our deep need to belong. We add to our core happiness.

But it’s not easy to feel valued on a sustained level. If it were easy we would have less motivation to keep contributing to the tribe. We might become complacent, and cease being of value to the tribe. That’s not good for us and it’s not good for the tribe. Evolution ‘wants’ us to keep feeling insecure. Yet, we have to be able to ameliorate that insecurity and succeed in feeling valued, otherwise there would be no incentive to strive and be rewarded. It’s a balance, and most of us are on that ‘tightrope’ every day.

That’s bad news and good news. It’s bad news because if we don’t succeed in feeling valued in day-to-day life we will revert to the default mode: a low self-worth. And, it’s bad news because even if we succeed in feeling valued with a stop-gap measure, the feeling will be short lived.

But it’s good news too, because it is possible to feel valued on a sustained level. If what we are doing is working for us, and we keep doing it, we can satisfy that need over the long-term. That’s when we satisfy our deep need to belong, and add to our core happiness.

The relationship between our fragile sense of self-worth and our need to feel valued is important. That’s what this section is about.

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How can we help someone feel valued?

I was standing in a Los Angeles bus when a man next to me began talking to me earnestly about the Kennedy assassination, and lots of other things, all jumbled up. I figured I might as well listen. I failed to understand his underlying message, but let him know I was listening. I could not ask questions because I could not get a word in.

After fifteen minutes the man pressed the button and the bus pulled into the next stop. The man stopped talking, looked me in the eye and said softly, ‘Thank you’, and then he got off the bus.

His Thank you made me I realise I had given him a gift. I had listened to him. I had listened to him speak on subjects he considered vitally important. It dawned on me that perhaps no-one had actively listened to that mentally ill man for a long time. Why would they? He made no sense.

For a few brief minutes that man had felt he was contributing (telling me something important), and had felt valued, because I had listened. For those few minutes he had felt connected with humanity.

‘Quietly sitting and listening to someone sends a powerful message of acceptance to them. They may feel that the whole world is wrong, but if one person accepts them unconditionally they may begin to feel more accepting of themselves.’
Gary Van Warmerdam.

‘Because of its rarity, the skill of excellent listening sends a powerful message. It says, “You are important. Your ideas are valuable. You and what you think matter to me.”’

Dr Bev Smallwood.

Ways to help people feel valued.

The examples below may be long and lengthy, but they are gold! The extra oomph they provide might be remembered for years. Why? Because when we apply them we not only acknowledge the person’s achievements, we acknowledge the person themselves. That’s a great way to help a person feel valued. They begin to feel real.

(1) Acknowledge a person’t achievement.

A brief ‘Well done!’ is sufficient (providing the task was well done). It’s better than ‘Good boy!’ because Well done! is focusing on the person’s value to the tribe.
‘Well done!’  ‘Good job!’  ‘Good work!’

We can also acknowledge a person’s efforts.
’I can see you have practised diligently.’
‘I can see you worked hard to produce that document.’
‘I noticed you were putting every bit of yourself into that race.’
‘I admire your persistence.’

Don’t praise the person. Praise the achievement.

(2) Acknowledge a person’s character trait.
Now and then a detailed acknowledgment is in order, for special occasions. In the examples below we go once step further than praising the achievement: we acknowledge a character trait. That way, the person builds up a belief in their character, not in how adept they are. That’s a far more sustaining way to value someone.

‘Yes, you came last in the contest, but you had the guts to enter the competition, and then compete. That’s impressive! Especially given that you would have known you had little chance of winning. This tells me you are a person interested not just in winning; but in testing yourself, and having a go. Well done!’

Each and every word has to be true. If it didn’t take courage to enter the competition, for example, don’t say it. That applies to the remaining examples. Assume the comments are an accurate and honest view of the situation.

Every acknowledgement has to be accurate, genuine and specific. And, it has to be proportionate to the amount of effort put in. Otherwise, the recipient will think you’re a dill, or lose trust in your judgment or honesty. When the comments are accurate, the recipient learns how to think about themselves in the same healthy way. They can become self-nurturing, and learn how to value themselves.

Here is another compliment acknowledging a character trait and an achievement:

‘Everyone may be celebrating Rhonda on her twenty-first birthday, but the real credit goes to you two, her parents. You two are the ones we should be celebrating, because for twenty-one years you both made sacrifices. You both worked hard to ensure you raised a healthy, well adjusted, educated, confident woman, and you succeeded. She is a credit to you both. It’s an extraordinary achievement and I congratulate you both for it. Yes, congratulations to Rhonda, but it’s because of you two that she is here, happily celebrating her birthday. Well done!’

Again, every word of it has to be true and accurate. Otherwise it’s just a gush-fest.

‘You won that contest! Congratulations! Every one of those contestants would have practised long and hard to be the best they could possibly be. They would have prepared and rehearsed and practised, over and over and over. Yet, you managed to come first! That tells me you also worked extraordinarily hard in your preparations and rehearsals. And, you must have developed a strong self-discipline. You not only have talent, you have patience and persistence. You worked hard and you thoroughly deserve your victory! Congratulations to you: not just on winning the contest, but on becoming a person who could do such a thing. Well done!’

If those acknowledgements sound to you corny or over-the-top, it’s because you’re not used to giving them. Or receiving them. Get into the habit of giving them (on those occasional instances when they’re deserved) and you will not only help someone feel valued, you will find in yourself similar strengths.

(3) Simply acknowledge a person.

A year after suffering a serious knee injury I found a young man in a street hobbling on crutches with what appeared to be a similar injury. I felt concern for him, and out of the blue I told him, ‘Hey, make sure you do your exercises, won’t you?!’ And I smiled.

He nodded and said, ‘Yes.’

I kept walking.

Six months later a young man answered my advertisement for bricks. He said to me, ‘You don’t recognise me, do you?’

I admitted that I didn’t.

I was surprised to find that our ultra-brief encounter six months previously had made an impression on him. He had appreciated my concern.

If you feel like acknowledging another human being – whether it be in their suffering or in their achievement, consider doing so. For that matter, regularly acknowledge the people you do know. Point out the things you like or admire about them.

(4) Thank people.

Elsewhere we examine the importance of thanking someone for our benefit: we become aware of how fortunate we are in life, which in turn helps us develop a positive view of the world. That diminishes our anxiety. We also strengthen the bond between us and humanity, which helps satisfy our deep need to belong.

Thanking someone also benefits the other person. It’s a way to value them. There is the short way to thank someone, and the long way. Use either, depending.
The short way:

‘Thank you for remembering to buy the milk and sewing machine.’
‘Thank you for doing that without having to be reminded.’
‘Thank you for cooking dinner.’

The long way:

When we give a sincere, quality, considered ‘thank you’ to someone, they feel heartened! Here is a quick summary of how to thank:
Step 1. Thank the person, explaining what they did for you.
Step 2. Explain how your life would have been different had you not been helped.
Step 3. You can even put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Step 4.  You can add a compliment.
Step 5. Repeat your message so it’s clear.

(1) Thank you for helping me fix my car. (2) I have saved a lot of money, and I’ve learned heaps. Had you not helped me, I would have been flustered, unable to use the car, and a lot poorer. (3) I know you have other things to do, so I do appreciate it. (4) Thank you for showing patience with me when you explained things to me. (5) Thank you very much!

Look for opportunities to thank people:
(In each case be 100% genuine.)

‘I am so glad that you chose me to employ fifty years ago. I have found this job so rewarding, because . . .’

‘I am so pleased that when you argue with me you don’t get nasty. You don’t get bitter or hold a grudge. I may not like our arguments, but I like how we argue in a civilised manner. Thank you!’

‘I appreciate the many odd jobs you do around the house without being asked. Thank you!

Buy a pack of ten ‘Thank You’ cards from the newsagent, and after someone has done something nice for you, write them a note of thanks in the card and post it to them.

(5) Be a good listener. 

When the other person is speaking:

(1) Listen for the message the person is trying to express behind their words.
(2) Search for a question you would like answered, and ask it.
(3) Don’t interrupt. Don’t talk over them.

When you are speaking:
(1) Look to see if the other person is interested in what you have to say.
(2) Don’t hog the conversation. Give the person opportunities to respond.
(3) Spare the person the irrelevant details.
(4) Consider making other people feel valued by inviting them into the conversation.

(6) Give someone your time.
Yes, our time is precious and we shouldn’t give it away willy-nilly, but sometimes it’s a good thing to do, and we know when those times occur.

When we spend time examining someone’s project, or asking questions about a neighbour’s experience, we are effectively telling that person that they themselves matter. We are silently saying to them, ‘I’m interested in your project because what you do matters.’

‘In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there – with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby – makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.’

Dr. Gary Chapman, from his book, ‘The 5 Love Languages’.

(7) Help out!
I once saw a bricklayer unloading bricks from his truck. I had the time to spare and helped him. I don’t know if he felt valued, or even if he thanked me, but in most instances, assisting a stranger can help them feel valued by ‘humanity’. It’s a reminder that we are ‘all in this same boat together’.

‘The words he or she most want to hear: “Let me do that for you.” . . . Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.’

Dr Chapman again.

If someone is changing a tyre facing the road, direct the traffic around them. If someone is trying to figure something out, teach them. Simply, if you have the time, assist someone. Don’t do it just be kind. Or to be a good person. Do it to strengthen the connection between you and humanity. That’s a key to core happiness.

(8) Physical Touch.
The boxing classes I attend are gruelling for all the participants, and when I walk past a regular partner I might feel a sudden twinge of affection for them and give them a friendly whack on the back. It gives me pleasure to do so.

I like it when I get a whack on the back, too.

I also like shaking the hand of someone I respect. 
 Touch is vitally important, as Ashley Montagu explains in his eye-opening book, ‘Touching. The Human Significance of the Skin.’

Here’s Dr Chapman again:
‘Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face–they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love.’

Q. ‘How can we help our kids feel valued?’

Spend time with them. And, as well as applying the tips above, we can give them jobs to do. Household jobs. They learn how to contribute ‘to the tribe’, and when we thank them, they feel valued for their contribution. In the process they also learn self-discipline, how to be industrious, how to pull their own weight, and how to be reliable. Great skills for life.

Do chores with them. All of you can clean the house together, or work in the garden as a team.

‘Do we pay them?’

You decide. There are too many factors to be considered to discuss here.

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