Make Yourself Happy


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.

SONY DSC                       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.SONY DSC

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?

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  1. Annie,
    Oh the December birthday! It’s so hard with teens but I think they are happiest when thinking of others. It’s a strange and difficult task to get teens to do something that does not completely focus on themselves. When helping or thinking of someone else, my kids feel a sense of “happiness” that they’ve generated on their own.
    Either that or we watch a movie with Steve Martin in it (Roxanne or Father of the Bride were most recent) and laugh hysterically together. That makes everyone happy!

    1. annie kip says:

      I agree that they feel espcially good when they have done something nice for someone else. I guess that is why we oooh and ahhh over the things they make for us – to teach them how rewarding it is to think of others.

  2. Oh, yes. I struggle much with the pursuit of happiness, especially when my kids are involved. You are right: The key is to do things because I want to, not because I feel obligated to create their happiness. I think this is one of those shifts that happen in adolescence, one of the things we have to let go of and turn over to them.

    Perhaps the best way is to model it. Yesterday was my birthday. I bought myself a present. I took myself (and the kids) to dinner. I informed them that the only thing I wanted from them was a squabble-free meal with them–and I insisted on getting that. After dinner, I had a nice long chat on the phone with my parents and then a soak in a bubble bath. I didn’t worry about leaving them on their own for the rest of the evening and didn’t try to force some kind of activity with all of us together. In short, other than requesting no squabbling (a sane request for any meal, not just a birthday dinner), I didn’t need anything from them to make my own birthday happiness. And it mostly worked (for me).

    Even this old dog can learn some new tricks.

    1. annie kip says:

      I think you are right, Rita and it is especially hard to do this when you are a single parent. There is no other parent around to say “son, did you thank your mother?” or “hey kids, let’s plan something nice for mommy!” We have to show kids how to do nice things for other people – and setting an example is the most effective way.

  3. Liz says:

    You have to let your kids learn to make their own happiness. This works toward making them in control of their own lives.

    1. annie kip says:

      I totally agree, Liz. I think it is really interesting how we learn that for ourselves at the same time as they are learning it. The drive to make our kids happy is so strong, but training ourselves let go of that is the way we are able to help them learn this valuable life-skill. Thanks for your thoughts!

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