I grew up in a world where I came to believe that it was my job to make other people happy. Sadly, that meant that I attracted people into my life who, consciously or unconsciously, took advantage of that mindset. I was miserable. My road to healing has been long, but I have learned a lot along the way.
- Happiness is internal. The flip side to believing that my job was to make everyone else happy is that I expected, in return, that other people would respond in kind to make me happy. It just doesn’t happen. Friends and family are great, but when we hand them that much power over our lives, we’re asking for disaster. In the end, making and choosing true happiness is a process of training ourselves to see the good, to see the potential, and to see our own ability to influence the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of life.
- I’m not required to like everyone I meet. This was a hard lesson to learn! If I’m going to be happy by making people happy, I need to like them and they need to like me! The truth, however, is that I will meet people who have no problems mistreating and misusing others. I will meet people who cannot respect when my opinions and philosophies differ from their own. I can love, respect, and “be nice” to almost anyone, but that does not require that I make these individuals a part of my “inner circle.”
- Some people are truly toxic for me, and I am better off giving them less access to my heart and mind than those who are good for me. This is kind of the same thought as the one above, but it goes a little deeper. This is about people who can send me backwards into thought patterns that I’m trying to leave behind. These are people who manipulate and hurt others to get what they want. I have, over time, learned that I respond to people with these qualities differently from other people, and I have learned to trust my instincts when I feel the warning signs. I am slowly learning how to be civil without letting those individuals feel like I’m giving them access to deeper levels of friendship.
- Helping others is not necessarily the golden ticket to happiness. I had to learn healthy habits of helping, which was also unbelievably hard. My church and my faith are very service oriented, and I have even had leaders teach that the best way to get over a lot of the bumps and issues of life is to go out and serve someone else. I believe that is true — as long as I go with a healthy attitude toward serving. If I go believing that there is some magic in service and that God or the cosmos is going to magically bless my sacrifice by taking away everything that is bothering me, I’m setting myself up for serious disappointment. If I put my cares and troubles aside for a while and simply focus on others — understanding their needs, learning from their example of working through troubles, and giving in ways that are actually beneficial to them — I can give my heart and mind breathing room that will leave me refreshed to go back and tackle my own problems.
I have learned that it is more than possible to be nice, be helpful, be giving, be loving, be good — and all those other things that my parents wanted to raise me to be — while still leaving space in my life for me to be healthy and whole and to work on my own goals and dreams. I have learned that being a good person should never require sacrificing the core of who I am for someone else. I have learned that balance is healthy, and that by being healthy I am actually of greater worth to my friends and family than if I had continued to live by my old rules of happiness.