Attachments: Are they helpful or a hindrance?

"Whatever is not yours: let go of it. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term happiness and benefit" - the Buddha

'Attachment' - or, specifically, the importance of 'non-attachment' - is one of the core themes of Buddhist philosophy. The Buddha believed very strongly that our attachments, cravings and desires are a major cause of suffering in our lives, and that the path towards a liberation from this suffering therefore involves the 'cessation' or 'extinguishing' of these aforementioned attachments, cravings and desires.

'Attachment' is something we are all familiar with in our modern lives. There are many positive types of attachment, such as the attachment between a young child and their primary caregiver. According to 20th century 'attachment theory', the quality of these early attachments determines the quality of the rest of our lives. Indeed, psychologists have found that babies and young children who enjoy 'secure' attachments with their primary care givers during childhood are more likely to find security in their relationships throughout the rest of their lives. As social animals, human beings depend on these secure relationships and strong connections in order to survive and thrive. Therefore, in this context of forming meaningful and secure relationships, 'attachment' is something very important and very positive, and it is something we should endeavour to cultivate wherever we can.

However, 'attachment' can also become a negative, life-limiting part of our existence, especially when it is directed towards the wrong things. It's far too easy to become overly attached to things that we really ought to be letting go. Whilst 'attachment' can help us to form stronger relationships with other people, it can also turn us into prisoners of our own thoughts and desires. When we become attached to our self-image, for example, we become a slave to societal opinion and spend our entire existence craving validation from others. We fail to realise that what other people think of us is actually none of our business, and we fail to realise that constantly trying to please everybody else will never make you happy! And when we become overly attached to physical pleasures and luxuries, we become slaves to our senses, abandoning any self-discipline we may once have enjoyed and losing all ability to regulate our behaviours or emotions.

A great example of how misdirected attachments can ruin our lives in today's world is seen in most people's relationship with social media. It's very easy to become 'attached' to social media and the (superficial) validation it supposedly provides. We can't imagine our lives without Instagram likes or Snapchat stories, and we can't escape this constant impulse to check how well our latest post is doing or what drama our favourite influencer has got themselves into this week. We fail to realise that social media should be an optional extra in our lives - a source of short-term entertainment - rather than the entire meaning of our lives! It's scary to see just how easy it is to become a slave to social media, with millions of people now existing in a state of 'digital dependency', unable to distinguish between their 'real' lives and their 'online' lives. When we become attached to our smartphones and social media in this way, we really do ourselves a disservice. We lower the quality of our lives, shorten our attention spans, lose sight of what's really important in our lives, and become dependent on external validation. This is an example of an attachment that we need to let go!

We need to think about what we are attached to, and why. Most of us don't realise what we are attached to, until it's too late! That's why we need to ask ourselves: what am I attached to in my life? Who and what do we most care about in life? What are my sources of validation, and how do I measure the value of my life? What could I live without, what couldn't I live without? Where do I find love, happiness, stimulation, identity and meaning in my life? And, most importantly: do my attachments serve me, or am I a slave to them?

When it comes to our attachments, I really need to assess whether they enhance the quality of our life and our individual happiness, or whether they detract from it. Meaningful relationships will, of course, enhance the quality of our life, whereas an addiction to social media will not! Ask yourself this: do your attachments to [insert object of attachment here] enhance the value of your existence, or do they take away your inner peace? Which attachments can you genuinely not live without, and which ones do you really need to let go?

Do you benefit from your attachment, or would you benefit more from letting it go? So many of our attachments are unnecessary and damaging, bringing so much more pain than positivity into our lives. Words cannot describe how much we would benefit from just letting them go!

So here's my challenge today - consider what you are attached to in your life, and ask whether this is conducive to your happiness. Which attachments improve your life, and which attachments do you need to let go? Quit the digital dependency! Quit the addiction to drama! Let go of your need for physical luxuries! Forget thinking about what other people might think about you!

Remember, if it's not contributing to the quality of your life, you need to let it go! Focus on living your most meaningful, fulfilling and genuinely happy existence! Let it go, and let yourself experience more happiness and fulfilment in life than ever before!

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