Wherever the need to try to make others happy comes from, it’s a no-win proposition. So how do you go about changing? There are three basic steps.
First really understand that your actions can’t ensure another person’s happiness. Try saying to yourself, “Caring does not mean being responsible” the next time you feel compelled to jump in and try to change someone’s emotional state.
Second, when you see someone in distress, practice saying things like: “I’m sorry you are having a hard time. Is there something I can do to help?” rather than rushing in with the chicken soup or endless sacrifices.
Third, focus on cultivating your own happiness; the more you get in touch with that inner state of joy and peacefulness that is your birthright, the less you will feel the need to “make” others happy.
The more you allow the others in your life to stand on their own two feet emotionally, the less drained, overwhelmed, and helpless you’ll feel. You’ll be less bowled over by other people’s feelings, and more content and solid in your own being. And you may even notice that your faith in the capacity of the other person to make him or herself happy will have good effects on him too.
That’s what my friend Sue recently experienced with her adult son. “I was always rushing in with a million suggestions whenever he seemed down. But yesterday, we were on the phone together and instead of doing my usual, I said, ‘Josh, I know that you will find your way through this.’ I could feel the connection between us grow.”
As Sue discovered, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care about the feelings of those around you. Or that you never offer counsel or support, or compromise for someone you love. We can help them think about how to expand their options when they’re stuck, support them when they take risks, point out the effects they are having on us. But it’s not our job to make them happy, even if by some miracle we could. Simply that you recognize that the responsibility for happiness resides inside each of us. When we love, we hold the beloved in tender hands, supporting their growth toward happiness but never making ourselves the granter of it.
Declare your emotional independence—your happiness is your own responsibility and so it is for everyone else.