Trying to make other people happy is likely to create unhappiness for all involved.
You can be thoughtful of other people. You can be generous with other people. You can even be indulgent of other people. But, no matter how hard you try, there is never a guarantee that your efforts will yield happy other people.
Following this line of reasoning, any efforts I make to create happiness for other people, should be made simply because those efforts, in and of themselves, will make me happy. I don’t think that is selfish. Any effort to make another person happy should be given completely freely. We can hope that our efforts will make other people happy, but it is immature to demand that our efforts will have the result we intend. It is unreasonable to think we can manage that level of control over other people.
I believe this but I don’t always remember to live it.
Two of my three kids have birthdays in December. This year, two out of two kids cried on their birthdays. They were choosing to focus on the things that did not go as they had hoped and forgot about most everything else. This made me feel disappointed and frustrated and angry and defeated.
I worked hard to give my kids a special feeling on their birthdays because I wanted to make sure they felt extra happy. At least for one day. I did not realize that my efforts had strings attached until I felt resentful and disappointed when a different outcome occurred. Yet, as hard as it is to see my kids unhappy, I have learned that I am capable of making them even more unhappy by being upset and disappointed in them for being unhappy. I am impressive like that.
I tried to pull myself together and remember that there are factors in play which I have no control over. I tried to hug them while they ranted. I tried to bear up under the expectation that I could make it all okay. That didn’t work, so I just put them to bed.
Letting go of outcomes and focusing on what makes us happy and ignoring what makes us unhappy creates more happiness. For everyone. It just does. Some of us have to learn this lesson over and over again.
I sit here tonight faced with the choice of feeling bad about the way things went for my kids on their birthdays or thinking about what a relief it is to remember how I want to give – without strings attached – in time for Christmas. Living what I believe is challenging. Letting my kids learn to be in charge of their own happiness is a gift which is hard for me to give, but is worth high dividends in long-term happiness for us all.
Do you struggle with this too?