How Our Lack Of Trust Holds Us Back From Happiness
Published: May 16, 2015
Nobody escapes life without being let down, disappointed, lied to or betrayed. This, not surprisingly, can make us skeptical and distrusting. But there are strategies to overcome this.
Negative experiences cause us to build a safety mechanism to protect ourselves from being hurt further. We trust less so we can avoid the pain and disappointment, therefore allowing us to be happier.
But what if our safety mechanism, being less trusting, is doing exactly the opposite? What if a lack of trust equals less happiness? There is strong evidence that trusting more allows us to be happier and healthier.
Recognizing that trust is important for a healthy and happy life can be the first step to making important changes. We can’t change what happened in the past, but we can influence how we respond going forward.
Why do we lose the ability to trust?
When we are born, we trust completely. Our lives start as a blank canvas with no preconceptions or experience. Since we are helpless and dependent we have no option but to trust the people and things around us. There is no reason for a newborn not to trust that everyone and everything works in harmony.
Trust is an adaptive mechanism operating on a feedback loop. As we grow from infant, to child, to teenager and into adulthood, we experience a range of situations and experiences. These “lessons learned” are incorporated into our concept of trust which we use going forward. The “baggage” from previous relationships that we carry is a result of feedback, learning and adaptation.
And trust is fragile. Many positive, trust building experiences with someone can be wiped out by a single betrayal. We seem to overemphasize the negative, perhaps as a biological adaptation designed to protect us from future harm.
Genetics, as shown by this study, also play a role in our ability to trust. Some of us are naturally more trusting based on our gene profile. As well, the presence of the hormone oxytocin has been shown to increase our ability to trust. Some people have naturally higher oxytocin levels.
This mashup of life experience and biology combine to develop our ability to trust. Trust is a balance between your ability to judge people and situations and your willingness to open your heart and accept the risk.
The relationship between trust and happiness
This recent population study shows that generalized trust continues to be strongly associated with self-rated health scores and overall happiness. Basically, the more trusting we are the happier we are.
A critical aspect of happiness is a sense of belonging and community, as shown by John Helliwell at the University of British Columbia. One of the reasons that smaller communities tend to rank higher on happiness scales is the better opportunity to build relationships. But even if you are in a close knit community, happiness suffers if your lack of trust keeps you from building these social connections. If you can’t trust, then the walls go up and you are in isolation.
So, to build your ability to trust there are a couple of options - get better at assessing human behavior, or be more open to personal and professional opportunities and accept that the upside is better than the downside. And if it goes wrong, know that life is full of second chances.
Trust is adaptive and changeable. What we experience, positively or negatively, feeds our sense of trust in our relationships and our world around us. We may have little control over our experiences, or our biology, but we can take some control over how we respond to situations and our environment.
Recognize that your ability to trust may be affecting your health and well-being. Trust is essential to building relationships, our social behavior and mental health.
If you have been able to overcome trust issues and feel better for it, let us know how you did it. We would love to read your comments