Do you like to make people happy? I do! I love to do nice things for people! It makes me feel valuable and worthy. I get pumped up about random acts of kindness and things like “paying it forward.” For the most part, it’s pretty all around awesome when I’m able to help out a friend or be there for a family member in need.
But I’ll let you in on a little secret. Sometimes, I run into people that don’t like it when I’m nice to them. They don’t like my particular brand of sweetness, or maybe they don’t appreciate the help that I give them the way that I expect them to appreciate the help I give them. When that happens, I feel pretty terrible. I get confused, and whiny, and irritable, and honestly I can start behaving a little bit like a three-year-old that doesn’t get the Sour Patch Kids so enticingly displayed at eye level in the supermarket checkout aisle.
When someone I’m trying to make happy isn’t happy, I feel helpless and irrationally resentful. I ask myself things like, “What is wrong with them? What’s wrong with me? I’ve done so much and gone out of my way to give advice/give time/give money/smile pretty/act empathetic and how dare they not appreciate me?” And then, instead of letting the issue rest, and letting the unhappy person just be unhappy, I say, “Hmmm, I wonder what else I can do to make them happy?”
It’s fantastic to do nice things for people, but there is a point at which niceness crosses a line into control and manipulation. The line is crossed when think we know better than another person. We think that we can make their bad mood or their stress disappear, and that they should fall to their knees in gratitude because we bestowed our superior knowledge on them. That’s not kindness. That’s manipulation, plain and simple.
I’ve been on the receiving end of that type of manipulation, and I can assure you that the overbearing “love” does not feel good. It feels demanding, insatiable, overwhelming and smothering. It feels suffocating. When someone else needs me to appreciate them or to be happy just because of the things they’ve done for me, my inclination is to do the opposite. It’s a recipe for disaster.
It is impossible to make another human happy. If you haven’t come to this conclusion on your own, please trust my 40+ years of experience. It is impossible to make another human happy. You can make another person laugh or smile, but you can’t make them happy. You can help them be comfortable by giving them yummy food or warm clothes. You can drag them out to a comedy club for some laughs. But you can’t make them appreciate the yummy food or warm clothes, and you can’t guarantee that they’ll enjoy themselves at the comedy club or at any other activity you’ve arranged. Happiness is a choice that each individual makes for themselves.
I’ve driven myself crazy over the years trying to figure out how to make my family happy, make my husband happy, make my kids happy, and make my friends happy. I thought I was doing it with good, honest intentions. After all, doesn’t everyone want to be happy? So why shouldn’t they be appreciative of the things I do to make them happy? I now realize, though, that demanding happiness from others is selfish and greedy on my part. It really has much more to do with my own comfort and self-worth. If others are happy, I’m happy, and I feel good about myself. That means that I’m holding them hostage. As Byron Katie says, “If your happiness depends on your children being happy, that makes them your hostages. So stay out of their business, stop using them for your happiness, and be your own happiness.” The quote applies equally to tiny humans and grown up humans alike. Anyone who must be happy in your presence in order for you to be happy is a hostage. Let’s set them free! Maybe we truly can find our own peace and acceptance that way.
It’s a lot of hard work trying to make other people happy. It’s actually a lot simpler, quicker and more peaceful to just give people the dignity of their own emotions.
I’m still going to do nice things for people, but I’m going to make a concerted effort to not tie any strings onto the nice things I do for people. Instead, I’ll focus on my own joy and happiness. My own emotional well-being is a full time job, anyway – I have plenty to keep myself busy without worrying about forcing others into a false state of bliss. We may also find that letting others go frees them up to find the very happiness we have been trying to shove down their throats for so long.
Let’s stop trying to make everyone else happy. Let’s be kind, loving, joyous and free. That sounds like a much more simple and peaceful way to live.
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