But we keep repeating the myth as if it might one day come true.
I wonder how many times a well-meaning parent has turned to their grown child and asked, “Do they make you happy?” Because good parents only want their kids to be happy.
How many times do we tell young people to grow up and love whomever “makes” them happy? It’s what we think we’re supposed to say, and we say it as if it’s all that matters.
The words love and happy are so often intertwined just because we can’t resist mixing them together. We say, “I love this or that” when what we really mean is “I feel happy.”
That little lingual slip reinforces this notion that other people can turn on some switch to make us happy regardless of whatever else is going on. But if we actually want to “be happy?”
Then we’ve got to get real about our personal happiness. Because, that’s the thing. It’s personal.
In fact, happiness is not so much a feeling as it is an individual disposition. Even when we say that we feel happy, or that so-and-so makes us happy, what we’re really talking about is joy.
Other people might bring us joy, but they cannot make us happy.
To say that other people bring us joy is perfectly valid, reasonable, and even healthy. My daughter, for example, brings me abundant joy.
That doesn’t mean my child cannot also bring me enormous stress. She might even try my patience. It is perfectly natural to have a range of emotions when it comes to the people we love, because love isn’t easy.
It is never easy, not really.
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like 'struggle.' To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now – and to go on caring even through times that may bring us pain."
- Fred Rogers
Mister Rogers understood that love makes demands of our time and energy. Love is active work. He was right to bring up the word “struggle,” because there are some parts of love that will always be difficult.
As long as we think other people can make us happy, we’ll be terrible at love.
When people say that another person makes them happy, it suggests that love is easy. Or, that you’ll always feel like loving that person if it’s the real deal.
And it insinuates that a good reason to end any relationship is because they no longer make you happy. Yet that’s a terribly irresponsible way to go through life.
If you really believe that it’s somebody else’s job to make you happy, that connection is doomed from the start. It’s self-focused and misleading.
Love is not about making yourself happy, and those who look at it that way will be unable to offer a healthy love at all.
Happiness is an inside job that only we can do.
In a world that often conflates happiness with love, it can be difficult to admit that we are responsible for choosing happiness for ourselves. True happiness is a disposition rather than a fleeting feeling.
That’s why genuinely happy people can keep smiling through some of life’s worst circumstances. They recognize that other people cannot do their self-work. Other people can’t make their problems go away.
It’s up to you to choose your attitude in life. And one of the easiest things in the world that you can do is make yourself unhappy but blame that unhappiness on other people.
We would be better off to focus on fostering healthy relationships rather than leaning on them to fulfill us.
Healthy means setting and respecting various boundaries. It includes not getting everything we want. And treating the people we care about like valuable human beings with their veryown wants and needs.
In healthy relationships, we recognize that the other people aren’t there to serve us. They’re not there to make our dreams come true. In healthy relationships, we journey together, but give each other plenty of space and encouragement to grow.
It is an unfortunate reality, but people leave. They die, they change their minds, and we go our separate ways. The number one relationship that you need to get right is the relationship with yourself because you’ll ultimately always need to handle being alone with you.
You’ve got to be able to have a sense of self and purpose even away from those you love.
If you want to be happy, you’ve got to learn how to untangle your expectations from other people and instead begin choosing happiness that is dependent upon nothing but your own attitude.
So, let’s quit spreading the myth that other people can make us happy. And let’s start asking our kids what they’re doing to foster their own happiness.
If we just want our kids to be happy, it would help to give them the proper tools.