We are born into a world in which all of our needs are instantly met by others. Throughout infancy and childhood (for those of us lucky enough to have had parents who cared for our physical and emotional wellbeing) we are essentially trained to expect that our needs be met externally to ourselves.
As we grow a little older into our teenage years, this want to have our needs met expands beyond our family and perhaps encroaches into romantic relationships and friendships. And so, by the time we reach adulthood, we are pretty well schooled into believing that, in order to be happy, fulfilled, content and engaged in life, we must have the input of other people. To look without, as opposed to within, for the key to happiness, has become the norm.
What has increasingly dawned on me in my latter years, is that this is completely wrong. Yes, we must rely on others in childhood to provide us with those elements of life vital for survival but, in adulthood, the sooner we begin to consider that we, ourselves, are our own best friend, the better. As adults, to seek happiness within is to know the secret to living a peaceful, resilient, secure existence.
I often think of Nelson Mandela, who spent almost two decades in solitary confinement and yet emerged apparently mentally and emotionally intact, positive and bursting with inner strength. Mandela spent the first eighteen of his twenty-seven years in jail at the brutal Robben Island Prison. Locked in a tiny cell with neither a bed or plumbing, he was permitted to write and receive a letter once every six months. Each year, he was allowed to meet with just one visitor for thirty minutes.
However, Mandela’s resolve remained unbroken.
What Mandela proved is that the human spirit cannot be destroyed when a person is their own best friend, their own guardian of wellness.
Every time we forget that we are complete individuals and subsequently turn to another person in the hope that they will become our missing jigsaw piece, we are stepping further away from self-fulfilment and true happiness. Every time we look to another and attempt to emulate their actions in our own life, in an effort to be more like that person, we are moving ever further from our goal of self-actualisation and inner peace.
In order to be bombproof, to cope with whatever life throws our way, we must first know ourselves fully: our strengths and traits, the way we react in certain circumstances and how we can effectively manage those parts of us. And secondly, we must adopt the stance of best friend or guardian to ourselves, to separate out internally into two - on the one hand, our impetuous, less reliable, whimsical self, and on the other, our guardian, best friend, our guide, who can put things right and keep everything on track.
This doesn't mean we can't lean into the support of others when we need additional kindness, company or a sense of solidarity. Human beings are, after all, tribal creatures.
But what we must understand if we are to attain true happiness is that within ourselves lies the key to everything. Understand that certain situations and people will have a particular effect on you - good or bad - and choose to avoid or indulge, whichever makes you feel happier and more validated. Recognise the influences that are detrimental to your emotional health (following certain social media accounts, for example) and eliminate these from your world. Identify the practices that keep you grounded and motivated, and incorporate them into your daily life. Be mindful of your less reliable self who is prone to negativity, catastrophising and doom and gloom narratives that hold you back and limit your growth. Tune into your inner best friend through meditation, journaling and mindfulness and trust her/him - hand the reigns over to this part of you and look no more for that guidance from anyone else.
YOU know what is best for you. You can look after yourself in the best way possible. You have access to an incredible reservoir of inner power and determination... you just need to switch your attention from without to within.
Remember the film, Jerry Maguire? Remember the line, "You complete me"? No, nobody completes you: YOU complete you. YOU are your best friend, and the relationships you have with others in your life will be all the more enriched and precious just as soon as you begin to live with this knowledge and awareness.