Love finds you when you stop looking
First love yourself, then you’re open to loving someone else
We’ve all heard them. These age-old adages reverberating from those content in their cozy relationships, recalling their long-ago single life and dispelling that all-too familiar wisdom they must have the authority to give since they have someone. You appreciate the suggestion but think they’ve lost touch because “letting go” and “not caring” would mean dating suicide when the potential suitor pool is dwindling and the competition should have Oscars for a perfect portrayal of flawlessness. And anyway, since when is not putting effort towards a goal good advice for success? Oh, I know! NEVER.
Okay, I hate to disappoint, but I’m not going to totally dispel these suggestions because…there is a shred of truth to them. It isn’t about “not trying,” its about focusing on the right thing—YOU. If you are not in a good, or even optimal, place yourself or at least working towards it, it’s going to be tough to reel in what you truly deserve. This DOES NOT mean don’t be yourself, it means become the person you are proud to portray—be whole and solid so when another fully baked cookie comes along you can make a batch.
How do you do this? To counter the old wives tale approach, let’s appeal to SCIENCE! The following are a few features of flourishing according to one of the founders of the field of positive psychology, Martin Seligman1, along with research-based suggestions on how to foster the good life for yourself.
Positive emotions are not only beneficial because they feel good. Barbara Fredrickson’s research has shown that they can broaden the bank of thoughts and actions you draw from, as well as build lasting resources for the future2! One way to do this is through conjuring up the positive emotion gratitude through writing a list of five things you’re grateful for each week. I know, so Oprah, but empirical research shows that this ritual resulted in feeling better about one’s life, less physical complaints and more optimism for the future3. Gratitude is a great emotion to start with since it is related to improved relationship quality 4 and sparks a desire to help other people5.
Having an activity that you become absorbed in is key. A good way to think about this is through Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow6, a state in which you are completely absorbed and your skill set matches the demand presented by the activity. Think of it as “being in the zone” or “runners high”. To quote Eminem, “Lose yourself in the music, the moment.” The activity depends on the person but could take on a variety of forms—running, cross-word puzzles, painting, surgery, and countless more. If you’re afraid of heights and have weak upper body strength, maybe don’t try rock climbing. Stick to something you naturally gravitate towards but is challenging enough for you that it can consume your focus. Being in a flow state is good just for the sake of being engaged, but it is related to other benefits like positive affect, skill development, and higher performance7.
Having meaning in life is an essential part of thriving. Do some thinking and reflecting about what matters most to you that is larger than yourself—whether it be your passion, calling, family, activism, etc. Make goals that align with what is most important to you, working towards them brings a sense of purpose and fulfillment. People who have meaning in life have higher well-being, feel more in control and satisfied with their lives, are more engaged at work, and happier8!
I don’t need to tell you that relationships are important for flourishing. If you are reading a dating blog, I’ll assume you know. Its biological (seriously, I don’t have time to go into it but oxytocin is released through social contact…). BUT! You may be overlooking how to nourish this aspect of your life through existing relationships. Giving and receiving social support is essential to thriving. Prioritize your relationships with friends and family. Build new ones and grow the old by reciprocity– listening and being listened to. Let them know that you care. Having quality friendships is related to life satisfaction and wellbeing throughout the entire lifespan9.
As a researcher, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is not meant to be taken as a quick recipe for instant thriving. These aspects of flourishing should be a continual path toward the good life and a better, more whole self. As a matchmaker, I seek out out such people, and I’m confident that radiating the aspects of flourishing leaves you poised to accept the thriving person you deserve.
Want to learn more? Laura has graciously included sources for her article. Thanks Laura!
- Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being, Simon and Schuster.
- Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology:The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions., American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.
- Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Positive emotions broaden and build. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 1-53.
- Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 377.
- Bartlett, M. Y., Condon, P., Cruz, J., Baumann, J., & Desteno, D. (2012). Gratitude: Prompting behaviours that build relationships. Cognition & Emotion, 26, 2-13.
- Bartlett, M. Y., & DeSteno, D. (2006). Gratitude and prosocial behavior: Helping when it costs you. Psychological Science, 17, 319-325.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Perennial.
- Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). The concept of flow. In Flow and the foundations of positive psychology (pp. 239-263). Springer Netherlands.
- Steger, M.F. (2009). Meaning in life. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology (2nd ed.; pp. 679-687). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press
- Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. Oxford University Press.