Happiness and social significance

I was reading this article by Tony Robbins the other day. He says that every person has 6 basic needs, and these are what motivate us. If we are present and know ourselves, we will seek to fulfill these needs in healthy ways; if not, we might use means that get the job done, but create new problems.

“Significance” was one of the needs that he listed. It was interesting to me that he treated this need as one equal to something like “love and connection,” because in so many personal development and spiritual teachings, the idea that we may need to feel significant is the mark of a greedy ego. We understand through these texts that self-worth, value and importance are inherent and so because they are ever-present we shouldn’t try to cultivate them, yet it’s something that so many of us simply don’t feel.

Therefore, though some of us still have a desperate need to feel big, valued, important, the most useful advice we’re given is to quiet down and meditate, because we should know that we already are.

Even though that can work, it avoids the acknowledgment that feeling important is a valid reason to do things.

Why is this so hard to admit?

Because of an internalized belief that being important may belittle someone else, and you are not supposed to be better than the other. Even in this age of embracing individualism, there remain loud whispers, relics from childhood traumas, that tell us not to feed our egos, that we should be small, pleasant, agreeable, and that no one likes a show-off. That we shouldn’t do anything for attention.

Learning that feeling important is essential to happiness can not only attribute a reason to some of our behaviours, but it can allow us to let ourselves off the hook for them.

An example from my life:

For the past few weeks I’ve been practising yoga every day, and it’s really helped how I feel in both my mind and body. I have, however, contemplated the possibility that I would feel differently about my practice, or maybe wouldn’t have one at all, if I didn’t think that I’d gain some sort of social benefit from it. For better or for worse, yoga is trendy, and even though I genuinely love it, and even though my practice isn’t really something I talk a lot about, it’s possible that I envision myself as held higher in others’ regard for doing it.

Though initially the thought of this did not feel good, ultimately, I think it’s totally fine that this factors in to why I feel motivated to practise every day. I’m getting stronger and I feel happier.

But I do believe we should be aware of it. There are three reasons I think it’s always worth considering whether or not a behaviour is partly or only serving the need for significance:

  1. The requirements for social significance can change, and you want to be prepared for it. What if people stopped venerating yogis in popular culture? My need for significance would not be served and I would need to find a different avenue for it. I’d much rather do this consciously than risk engaging in rash or unhealthy behaviours.
  2. Significance can be found in healthy and unhealthy behaviours. If you are aware that a behaviour is serving your need for significance, you can better evaluate that behaviour independently of whatever significance you think you’re finding from it, and determining whether you should try to find significance elsewhere. Yoga is good for me, and doesn’t hurt anyone else, and so I don’t see a downside to using this as a means to feel significant.
  3. You might be depriving yourself from experiencing something wonderful because you don’t want to allow yourself to feel significance from it. Or, in the inverse situation, you turn down opportunities because, subconsciously, it doesn’t serve your throbbing need for significance; but if you were to have that need met, you would be able to open yourself up to experiences that met any of your other needs. You’d be able to trust the nudges that you get without first judging them for how much recognition they will get you.

It’s important to draw a distinction between searching for significance and searching for self-acceptance, but finding significance can be incredibly affirming on the journey to discovering your intrinsic value.



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