14 July, 2010

Notes on Happiness

Some of the things you have done “make me unhappy.”  The statement didn’t take me aback as it had occurred to me earlier that there existed the possibility that my choices and actions were perceived as a source of displeasure and a means of diminishing emotional ties or denying their former existence. 

The statement started sinking in only hours after the conversation ended.  I thought back on my response – I don’t always like the choices that you make, but they are yours and they don’t change how I feel.  Love is not dependent upon behavior. 

My response was honest and reflects my beliefs.  I believe love exists beyond actions and behaviors; that love is not conditional or dependent upon one living in accordance with expectations or within the lines.  Thus I heard and responded to the statement when it was made, but later, later I started to consider the larger concept. 

My actions leave another person unhappy…

My choices create unhappiness for another…

Is this my responsibility?

I remember conversations with my daughter – girls saying this, classmates doing that, her feelings being hurt – unhappiness spilling forth based on the behavior of others.  My words to her are lost to time and distance but the concept I remember as it is a lesson I continue to learn and to teach.  We are responsible for our choices; we are responsible for our own happiness. 

And what a difficult lesson that can be at times

It is easy to ask ourselves to believe that our happiness depends on others; therefore, if we are not happy, we are not responsible.  We have someone else to “blame.”  And how much easier is that  - blaming another for our unhappiness – than looking in the mirror and answering the hard questions – What do I want?  What would make me happy?  Why ask those questions that require thought and potentially hard work when we could close the door on our spirits and seek happiness from external means and other people?

The other challenge lies in the power that we give to others when we tie our happiness to their behavior.

I remember conversations in which I found myself feeling incredibly frustrated hearing someone repeatedly tell me, You’re never satisfied.  I can’t make you happy.  Hearing myself saying, I am not asking you to make me happy.  Now I wonder if the message wasn’t that he couldn’t make me happy but that I wasn’t making him happy?

Given that happiness is self determined, I am not sure that I ever tried to make him happy because it is not a long lasting or possible end state – happiness is not a gift I could give to another. 

Happiness isn’t something we can give to another person, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t try or we don’t take it upon ourselves to take on that responsibility whether we are asked to do so or not. 

I don’t know how many romances I have seen or read or observed where one, if not both, say something like, “I want to make you happy.”  Or “I will do whatever it takes to make you happy.”  Or “You make me happy.”  Do they mean that their happiness is tied to this person?  Or do they mean that this person is a source of happiness thus suggesting that it is the relationship, and what it brings to the table, that promotes a sense of happiness rather than one person making another happy via actions and meeting expectations? 

I have found myself in situations in which I felt pressured to be someone or something I am not.  I tried, half heartedly, but the reality is that I am who I am.  I can’t give happiness to another, I can’t make a life content or satisfying for anyone but myself, and I am physically and spiritually unable to be anyone other than myself. 

But I know people who can do it.  I know people who can repress emotions and behave in certain ways to meet expectations or out of fear of rejection.  I know people who can hide themselves so completely as they try to be the person that another wants them to be.  I know people who can do this for years, not exactly pretending to be someone else but hiding aspects of themselves thus denying the opportunity to be accepted and loved; attempting to be happy while denying themselves the chance to fully bloom. 

Ah happiness… it is one of those emotions that is difficult to find when we are looking and yet seems to creep up on us when we are fully living having given up the chase.  

A few days after the conversation that started this post, I find myself saddened by the unhappiness that exists in my friend’s life while realizing that, while my choices are mine, his choices are his.  I hope that someday he will realize that happiness is within his reach, not dependent upon the actions of others or their choices or external sources.  It is right there, just within his grasp when he is ready to recognize it.  No one can bring it to him or give it to him but… he can choose to find it in himself.  


Jenna said...

I've often thought about this same subject. No, we are not responsible for another person's happiness. But think of this. What if one day that friend said to you, "I'm not going to be your friend anymore." Shocked you ask why. Their response is "You made too many choices and behaviors that I don't like or affected me in an unhappy way." Your first thought might be that you aren't responsible for that person's happiness. But later you'll wonder..."Why didn't my friend talk to me and give me the chance to evaluate what I was doing to see if its really what I wanted? To decide if it was more important to me to do this thing/live this way or to have them as a friend?" The second thought that might cross your mind is our actions/choices DO affect others. The Great Law of the Iroquois Nation is "In all our deliberations we must consider the effects of our decision on the next 7 generations."

So no, we are not responsible for their happiness. But what we do will ALWAYS affect those around us.

The Exception said...

Jenna Ann -
This is an excellent point. Our choices are ours and there is some big picture thinking that is involved in making choices. Choices might seem great for this moment but the long term impact is something else entirely. We can’t see what the future holds; however, we can make choices that are respectful of ourselves and others and the world at large. We can take responsibility for those choices – recognizing our hand in the results or the situations as they unfold.

I believe our choices reflect the motivation or where we are internally – coming from love or fear; respect or disrespect; ego or spirit; trust or insecurity….

Thank you for this wonderful comment!!

Joy said...

Thank you for the insights you've provided..
I am responsible for the Energy that I share so my focus is to make sure it is always heart centered...I do the inner work to remove barriers so Energy may flow through me and magnify...
I am responsible for the Energy I choose to receive, so my focus is to make sure it is always golden and pure...it is my choice to release that which is not..
I am not responsible for the response to my Energy nor am I responsible for those choosing to share negative Energy...
Our society teaches external (people, material possessions...) makes us happy..I know that my internal peace allows me to attract joy, gratitude, love..."fruits" into my life...Once I allow internal peace, all of the rest unfolds naturally--regardless of external circumstances..

Wilma Ham said...

Happiness is our own responsibility, I so agree. However for a long time I was someone buying love by making the other one happy, ouch. It never worked, because as you say, happiness is not circumstantial or linked to others. Good on you for realizing this so soon. It took me a lot longer. xox Wilma