The Foundation of Happiness—Bringing Happiness to Others by Making Yourself Happy First
How much time do you spend trying to make other people happy?
Most of us spend a lot of time working to fulfill a need or being responsive to the requirements of our various roles. This can be good, healthy, and normal, but it can also be very unhealthy if we do it to the detriment of our self-worth. For most of us, it is also important to make our friends and family happy. Again, this is great as long as we do it in a healthy way, paying enough attention to our own happiness.
Be the best version of yourself for you
All of us engage in many activities to make other people like us; to look attractive to them; or to impress them with our talent, intelligence, or insight. Our motivations for doing this can be good and meaningful, but we may also try to be attractive to people to get validation of our worthiness. This can be unhealthy. There’s nothing wrong with trying to be attractive to others or wanting others to think highly of us. Anyone who’s ever had a job interview, been on a date, or tried out for a sports team knows that this can be very important. But when we get into the habit of doing it—of second-guessing our every word or action based on how it will be perceived and whether it will make people like us or accept us—we either don’t trust our own judgment or care too much about others’ reactions to how we present ourselves.
You have to strive to be the best version of yourself for your own sake—to make you happy. Think about something you do to impress someone else (everyone has some of these). Now think honestly about whether or not it brings you joy, makes you proud, or enhances your self-esteem. If there’s nothing in it for you, you should take a long hard look at the activity and your motivations for engaging in it. Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with doing something to make other people like you, but you should spend most of your time doing things for you. That may sound selfish but making choices for you helps you develop the best version of yourself.
If you are the best version of yourself for your sake, you can be the best version of yourself when interacting with others. Your interactions will be more genuine, and, ultimately, you’ll have a greater positive impact on the world around you.
Making others happy
It feels good when people like you and admire you. The need for this stems from a fundamental and deep-seated desire to be loved. One way to make people like you is to contribute to their happiness. No one can make someone else happy if they don’t want to be happy, but it’s possible to create conditions that give people a better chance at happiness. For example, think of the people you look forward to being with. What is it about them that makes you want to be with them? Chances are that something in your interaction with them enhances your self-image or confidence. They may challenge you intellectually and make you think. They may take an interest in your life and how you are doing. They may be funny. They may be accepting of who you are—people you can be yourself with. Any of these things have the potential to make you happier.
Why would you want to do the same—because of sheer altruism? This is an extremely important question. If we try to make others happy because it gives us something back—it makes us feel good about ourselves or gives our lives meaning—that’s very good. Perhaps we only do it because, if we make other people happy, they will like us, and only if they like us will we be convinced that we are likable. This is not good—we have to be comfortable with who we are first. Instead of making people happy in order to get external validation of our worthiness, we should be worthwhile for us. Only by building on this foundation can we contribute towards other people’s happiness in a sincere way.
Don’t give yourself away
Don’t ever think that if you disappoint someone or otherwise fail to make them happy, your own happiness must suffer. Make the choices you feel are best; try to make others happy, but be confident in your decisions and comfortable with the consequences. Each person’s happiness is their own responsibility. Yes, you should be thoughtful and generous. Yes, you should try to make others happy, but your first priority must be your own happiness. If you are so invested in others’ happiness that you can’t be happy unless they are happy (or happy with you), then you’ve given away part of yourself; you’ve given control of your happiness to someone else.
Build a foundation of happiness. Only by focusing on your own happiness first can you contribute toward another’s happiness.
Additional Resource: Choosing Therapy: How to be Happy Again: 15 Tips