When I moved back to Belgium after living in Colombia for 3 years, I felt like a completely different person. I wrote down 10 lessons I’ve learned by living abroad that changed me forever. Every so often, I dive into another lesson and share my insights with you.
This post is about lesson #2 – Your happiness lies in your own hands. Read on to get to the good stuff.
Yeah yeah yeah, bla bla bla. You already know. Don’t worry be happy!
When I was trying to write this blogpost it got a little bit out of hand. What was supposed to be a piece about ‘what Colombia taught me about happiness’ turned into almost a white paper about ‘what happiness is and why we are so obsessed with it’.
Colombia taught me that happiness lies in your own hands, that dancing your ass off is the greatest tool to find happiness, and that being grateful also works. Or was it the other way around?
But guess what? You don’t give a damn. There is already so much written about happiness so why would you want to read more? What could I possibly tell you that you don’t know yet? Why would I add another grain on this immense mountain of well-intended advice?
When I reached out to you on Instagram it was clear that you care more about making your loved ones happy than yourself. I guess you already know what to do to be happy. But you don’t know how to help your loved ones to become happy. So, I decided to turn things around. I will not write about how you can make yourself happy, but instead about ‘how you can make the people you love happy’.
Just between you and me.. I don’t like the word ‘happy’ anymore. It has become an empty word that is too often related to chasing highs and abused by our consumption society. Instead, we should use the words ‘content’ and ‘contentment’. It shows that happiness is a long-term thing. And that you can struggle and still be content at the same time.
How can you make your loved ones happy?
Think about your friends and family for a second. How many of them would you like to help become more content with life (again)? I can at least name three. They mean the world to me, and it’s heartbreaking to see them struggling. And I am sure the people you have in mind mean the world to you. That’s why you have been thinking about what you can say or do to help them overcome their struggles.
Gee, this is going to be some tough love hun’. Although I am not an expert, I can tell you from experience:
Don't try to make other people happy. And here's why: You can't. Happiness, or better, contentment is an internal thing.
Before we dive in, let’s say that, for the sake of simplicity, the person you want to make happy is a woman. She has been struggling with life a bit lately and says she’s unhappy. So you are asking yourself. What can I do to make her happy? We’ll first look at the why and then at the how of this question. I’ll refer to her as a ‘she’ from now on but replace the ‘she’ by a ‘he’ anytime you want.
Why do you want to make someone happy?
Before asking yourself the question of how can I make her happy, you want to ask yourself why you want to make her happy? As far as I know, there are two options.
- One, you want her to be happy because you love her and you care deeply about her well-being.
- Two, you are a people’s pleaser that relies on the approval and appreciation of others to define your self-worth. You see her unhappiness as a personal failure, and as your responsibility to fix it.
I am sorry if that came in a bit harsh. The second one is not a good motive, and might cause very toxic relationships. But also the first one, although it is very well-intended, can harm the relationship.
Let me explain why.
First of all, it’s not your job to make anybody else but you content. If you think it is, then you might find yourself losing that person one day or another. It is harming the other person and it is harming you. If she accepts that it’s your job to make her happy, it will drain you. It will suck all the energy out of you because it is a never-ending job, and nothing that you will do will ever be enough. Because whatever it is that she needs to be content, is rooted inside of her. And the ‘solution’ should also come from within.
Secondly, as long as you take responsibility for her contentment, she won’t. She will continue to externalize her happiness and she will not be able to achieve it. She has to learn how to make herself content. She has to learn that her happiness is her responsibility and that struggles are part of life. That she has to work through these struggles. And that she even can struggle and be content at the same time.
Thirdly, you don’t know what the other person wants. Only she can know what she wants because only she can know exactly how she feels. And most of the time, she doesn’t even know. So how are you supposed to know? This means that whatever you do or say to make her happy, it won’t do the job.
What can you do?
So if you can’t make this person happy, then what can you do? Let me first tell you what you shouldn’t do:
You shouldn’t tell her what to do. Your opinion doesn’t really matter. Because this well-intended advice is a projection of your own desires and fears based on what you know about life. It’s not even close to what she needs to hear or do. What she needs is for you to be there for her. Besides, you don’t want to risk that she’ll come back afterwards and blame you for giving bad advice.
If this person has finally decided to take action, and you think she is making the biggest mistake of her life… there is not much you can do about it. You cannot teach her the valuable lesson that you already know by saying it to her. And maybe that lesson applies to you, but not to her. Remember that we are all different. We all learn from our own insights and even more from our mistakes. And sometimes you have to allow the other person to make the mistake to learn the lesson. Or you can help her to get to the insight before she makes the mistake. But if I were you, I’d leave that up to a professional.
So what can we do?
Make yourself happy. Make sure you are content, and strong in life so you can support the people you love when they are struggling.
Be a soundboard. Be a rock. Be a listener. Give hugs. Be the support this person needs. Acknowledge her struggle. Give her time and space. You could help her to find more insights and solutions by asking questions. Or you can guide her towards a professional that can do this.
I hope this helps you. If you have any comments or questions you can post them below or contact me directly on Instagram @laura.vansteen. Good luck with making yourself content!
Ps: I want to state that every situation is different. We are all unique and struggle with different things. Some things are situational, other things are deeply rooted inside of us, and another thing is mental illness. Depending on the root cause, different support is needed. Trying to help someone who is heartbroken because of breakup or loss is very different than trying to help someone who is suffering from mental illness like depression or burn-out.