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Every day we make thousands of decisions, but beyond the color of the clothes we’re going to wear, the amount of sugar we’ll put in the coffee or the job offer that we will reject or accept, the truth is there is only one decision to be happy really transcendental in our life: the people we have chosen to accompany us in each of those dilemmas.
Or at least is what says Moran Cerf, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University, who thinks that happiness is not contingent on the success we achieve in life or the things we have, but rather on the people who are at our side.
Your energy is limited: What do you want to spend it on?
Cerf starts from the idea that making decisions can be a strenuous process that consumes a large amount of our emotional and cognitive energy. If we make many small decisions every day, we run out of resources to make the really momentous decisions that can change the course of our lives.
In fact, we usually think of our mental resources as an infinite source, but in reality it’s not. Willpower, for example, is a finite resource that wears out every time we have to make a decision that demands to start up our self-regulatory resources. In other words: having to control ourselves all day long is exhausting, so when the night comes we’re likely to be exhausted and more likely to lose control or give in to temptations.
Discussing with people or having to reach agreements constantly also involves enormous wear and tear. That is why Cerf puts the focus on those around us. His theory is that, if we surround ourselves with people who have tastes, values and beliefs related to ours, we will avoid discussing continuously of trivialities, it will be much easier to reach agreements and our life will flow better.
Cerf alerts us that our energy is limited, so we must use it intelligently, and that means choosing wisely the people we will let into our inner circle.
Our brains are synchronized, for better or for worse
Neurosciences proved that when two people do something together, there is a synchronization between their brains, which means that their brain waves tend to move in the same way.
A study conducted at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris revealed that when we interact with other people we not only have a tendency to imitate their movements, but also the same key functional centers in the interindividual brain network are activated symmetrically.
Brain synchronization, as demonstrated by another study carried out at the Eastern Normal University of China, is fundamental for prosocial behavior; that is, to connect with the others. However, it also has a darker side: we can get infected with the negative emotions and feelings of the others, letting ourselves be drawn into their “emotional turmoil”. And that wears us out.
When we let a person into our inner circle, we create a relational field that ends up influencing our mood. This relationship can bring us many satisfactions, help us release stress and make better decisions, but it can also be a huge source of dissatisfaction, conflict and stress.
Choose people who add value – and become someone who adds
We must be aware that the people around us influence our mood, behaviors and decisions. Just as we influence theirs. That means that, if we want to be happier and live with fewer conflicts, we must worry about carefully selecting those people we let into our lives.
If we surround ourselves with pessimistic people, who always have a problem for each solution, people who continuously complain and have made the complaint their way of life, manipulative people who want to decide everything in our place or controlling people who want to know the minimum detail of our lives, it’s not strange that we end up feeling overwhelmed and unhappy.
Therefore, one of the most important decisions – and perhaps one of the most difficult – that we should take in life is to determine who we can let in and who should remain outside. To do this, we must be aware that we all have the right to decide with whom we want to share our most valuable possession: our time.
Therefore, don’t let social norms or simple chance choose in your place. The philosopher Max Stirner argued that when we don’t choose the people around us but they have been imposed by “destiny”, we feel tied to them, and that bond generates frustration and coerces us. On the contrary, when we consciously choose the people with whom we want to share our life, we can connect from our essence and create a relationship that is really worthwhile.
Of course, we must also make sure to be one of those people who add value to the lives of the others by accompanying them without invading and loving without possessing. That is the key.
Hu,Y. et. Al. (2017) Brain-to-brain synchronization across two persons predicts mutual prosociality. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci; 12(12): 1835–1844.
Dumas, G. et. Al. (2010) Inter-Brain Synchronization during Social Interaction. PLoS One; 5(8): e12166.