Epictetus (Greek Sage and Stoic Philosopher)
“Don’t wait around for other people to be happy for you. Any happiness you get you’ve got to make yourself.”
Alice Walker (Author; The Color Purple)
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”
Tenzin Gyatso (14th Dalai Lama)
Anyone who wants you to live in misery for their happiness should not be in your life to begin with.
I dated a girl in college who was never happy. Or maybe she was just never happy around me. Either way, I felt a strong sense of obligation to cheer her up. Whenever she was sad or frustrated or overwhelmed, I’d rush in to listen and support her. I’d let her vent her problems and then I’d try to solve them. I’d buy her things, sneak into her apartment and clean it between classes, leave her notes, on and on. Still, she was always upset about something.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a saint. And really, I had no clue what I was doing. I was just throwing everything against the wall to make her life (and my life) better. Occasionally, I struck gold and did something to make her happy. The problem was that whatever made her happy once would never make her happy again. I had to keep raising the bar. Eventually I threw in the towel and called it quits. If I’m being honest, part of me liked trying to make her happy. It gave me something to do. It made me feel important. But enough was enough. I finally realized that chasing someone else’s happiness is like chasing fairy dust.
My graduate school advisor never really liked me. He called me names like “boob” or “moron” and was always yelling at me for something. I did everything I could to get him to like me, especially during my 5th year. At this point, I had published two papers and secured a job in industry. But he still wouldn’t let me graduate. I racked my brains trying to figure out a way to build some kind of rapport with him. I’d see him be nice to other students and happy around people in general and think, “Why can’t I make him happy?” I felt like something was wrong with me. At the same time, I felt like there was still a chance. So I kept trying. But really, there was no chance. He just didn’t like me. One day, I realized he was never going to like me and I accepted it. I stopped trying to please him and, instead, went around him. I presented my case to the head of my department and the dean and three months later they let me graduate.
The Risk Of Trying To Make Others Happy
You might think that trying to make other people happy is virtuous or somehow makes you a better person. But it doesn’t. In fact, studies show that engaging with unhappy people makes you stupid and sloppy. One study examined 120 participants who were asked to talk with or ignore a happy or unhappy person. After four minutes of interaction, each participant was given a thought exercise that required good concentration. The participants who ignored the unhappy people performed better on the thought exercises than the participants who engaged with the unhappy people. But dealing with unhappy people is supposed to be hard. That’s why it’s noble, right? Sacrificing your happiness and health to make other people happy is not noble. It’s selfish. It’s also unsustainable. Other studies show that constantly feeling obligated to make other people happy is incredibly destructive. It can lead to burnout, reckless behavior, and even suicide.
7 Reasons You Can’t Make Others Happy
Feeling obligated to keep someone else happy causes more harm than good. The truth is you cannot be responsible for someone’s mental outlook. It’s impossible. You can provide a healthy and safe environment for other people to be happy in. You can give other people a chance to be happy. But, ultimately, the choice to be happy is theirs. Someone else’s happiness will never be your choice. It’s outside of your control for several reasons. Here are 7 reasons you can’t make other people happy:
1. Some people don’t want to be happy.
If you’re a happy person who enjoys living life—NEWS FLASH—not everyone is like you. In fact, some people hate to be happy. Some people want to be miserable. They like the attention it gets them. They love it when people like you rush in to help or save them. It literally gives them an emotional high. They get a dopamine release from the attention you’re giving them. But what happens when that dopamine release wears off? They need another hit. They need you to rush in again, this time with something bigger and better.
What’s more confusing is that some people don’t think it’s morally right to be happy. These people think that they’re supposed to be miserable. They think pain and sadness are saintly and just, and they think that people who are always happy are evil (or at least annoying.) It doesn’t matter why these people think this way. The only thing that matters is you knowing that it’s not your job to fix their thinking.
2. YOU can’t make some people happy.
Some people don’t want to be happy at all, others just don’t want YOU to make them happy. These people are happy in general, but not around you. Simply put, they don’t like you. So, get over it. Don’t chase them and don’t chase their happiness. If they get a huge smile on their faces and light up around other people but frown and clench down around you, make your peace with it. You can’t make everyone like you.
The key is to not obsess about the one or two people in the world who will never like you no matter what you do, but to focus on the other 7 billion people on the planet, many of which will have no problem with you whatsoever. Play the odds. Don’t close yourself off by chasing people who will never be happy around you. Instead, open yourself up to new and better relationships all around you.
3. People will use their happiness to manipulate you.
Have you ever sensed that someone really wanted you to like them and as soon as you sensed it part of you wanted to resist liking them back? Don’t lie. It’s okay. This is normal. When someone comes on too strong, our brains tell us to put up our guard. We ask ourselves, “Why are they trying so hard?” and “What do they want from me?”
Showing a little resistance is our way of protecting ourselves. Again, it’s natural. What’s unnatural, however, is when someone senses that you really want them to like you and they use it against you. Instead of putting their guard up, they string you along. They see your desire to make them happy and leverage it to manipulate you—to get something out of you. This is why seeking approval from someone else is always a mistake. Very often, the person you’re chasing is keeping their happiness one step ahead of you on purpose.
4. You make other people weak by being a crutch.
Sometimes supporting someone is the worst thing you can do for them. The longer you hold them up, the weaker their legs become. On a long enough timeline, their legs will stop working altogether. Like astronauts coming back from space, they won’t be able to stand up. And it will be your fault.
Tough love is tough, not because it hurts the person on the receiving end, but because it hurts the person who is being tough. We all know parents who spoil their kids for years and then stand back in shock when their little angels grow up to be brats. Likewise, we all know people who stay in soul-sucking relationships just because one person is too weak to walk away.
“You don’t understand, she needs me!” they cry. What a bunch of crap. People like this spend their lives pretending. They’d rather pretend that someone else needs them than do the tough (and right) thing. If you’re holding someone up, stop it. Understand that support is supposed to be temporary. Sooner or later you need to drop who you’re supporting and let them swim, or sink.
5. Happiness can only be experienced first-hand.
No matter how incredible a moment is, you can’t force someone to experience its incredibleness. No matter how happy you are, you can’t give someone your happiness. Happiness can’t be experienced second-hand. It’s not smoke. It’s not incense.
Happiness is part of your health. And, like the rest of your health, it can’t be shared. Sure, you can lead by example and hope others learn to live a healthy life, but you can’t make them be healthy. You can strap them down and force feed them healthy food and then force their muscles to engage in exercise and then force them to only think positive thoughts. You have to give people space to figure out how to be happy on their own. They need to learn to be happy without you. They need to learn to create their own happiness from within.
6. Living for someone else is selfish.
When you give someone who is constantly feeling sorry for themselves attention, you’re training them to feel sorry for themselves. You’re also training them to need you. This is vain and selfish. Too many people get their sense of self from helping others who don’t need their help. These people have no idea who they are but they know that other people need them. At least, that’s what they tell themselves.
Don’t fool yourself, others need you far less than you think they do. Your colleagues, friends, and family members don’t need you to constantly tell them what to do. They don’t need your handouts. Instead, they need you to back off. They need space. They need you to let them make it on their own, or fail trying. This might sound harsh but the best thing you can do for other people is encourage self-reliance.
Think of how you learned to ride a bike. Maybe you had training wheels at first. Then maybe your Dad or Mom ran beside you and pushed you along. Did they ever let you go? Of course. Did you crash a couple of times? You bet. But did you learn? Mother birds throw their babies out of the nest long before the babies are ready. Sometimes the baby birds are thrown out from hundreds of feet above the ground. The mother birds do this because they know it’s the only way the baby birds will learn to fly and survive in the wild.
The world is a tough place to live in and you’re not doing anyone any favors by living to keep them happy. The only thing you’re doing is being selfish. Stop being a martyr. Stop sacrificing yourself. It’s better to lead by example than through sacrifice. Focus on making your life an example of what other people can achieve. Learn to be happy on your own without other people depending on you.
7. You’ll never reach your own full potential.
Your life is a limited resource. If you’re spending all of your time and energy trying to make other people happy, you’ll have nothing left over for your own life. The only way to reach your full potential is to focus on making yourself as happy as possible. Focus on making your life incredible. The happier you are and the more incredible your life is, the more other people will want to replicate it. Your joy will plant a seed in their heads—a seed that they can nurture and grow on their own.
By setting an example of what’s possible, you inspire others to create their own happy life. Contrary to popular belief, the most unselfish thing you can do is live for yourself. Taking on the burden of other people’s joy is not only selfish, it’s unproductive. In fact, it’s impossible. The only way to grow happiness is to plant seeds. The best way to inspire others to reach their full potential is to strive to reach your full potential. Live a happy and full life and you’ll lead the way for other’s to lead a happy and full life.
Which of the above points do you agree with the most? Which do you agree with the least?
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