I sat in the supermarket today next to a man who I presumed to be in his 80s. It started as a peaceful moment as we both sat on a bench near the customer service desk, him reading his newspaper whilst I wolfed down a sandwich in between client sessions. Then out of nowhere, I had a powerful out of body experience - I was suddenly the old guy sat next to a lad in his mid-thirties!
I was thrust into a momentary review of my life. What had I done with my active years? What had I achieved? How had I felt along the way? What might I want to say to this young lad sat next to me? I then had one of the most moving insights I’ve ever had – I am solely responsible for my happiness. It’s cliché I know, and I’ve read it so many times before, but this time I really felt it.
I realised that all my life I’ve been looking outside of myself for happiness, usually in other people. I’ve told myself that if only I could meet the right person the mission would be complete – I’d have met “the one” who would take care of my happiness for me. I can’t tell you how wrong that feels after today.
For starters, if I pin my happiness on something outside of myself, that means I have limited influence (if any) over it. This is especially true for relationships. If I seek my happiness from someone else, what happens if they leave? The same goes for a job, a home or a friend. So long as I allow all my happiness to come from these people or places, I relinquish a huge amount of influence and in turn place an unfair expectation (burden) on those people.
Wouldn’t it make better sense to cultivate more of my happiness from things that I have much greater influence over? That way, when the things I have limited influence over change or disappear, my happiness won’t disappear with them. I have since been thinking about things that are almost exclusively within my sphere of influence and could therefore be sustainable sources of happiness.
The way I choose to look at things jumps out right away. For example, I have no control over the weather. If it’s raining, I can choose to be negative, or I can wrap up in waterproofs and think about how much the trees that sustain my life need that rain! The people I choose to have relationships with is certainly something I have plenty of influence over. I can choose to surround myself by people who support me in my pursuit of sustainable happiness. Equally, if I don’t feel good about myself around someone, I can walk away.
The fundamental thing I realised today, is that nobody else can offer me a sustainable source of happiness. Nobody. I have to create it myself in my choices, my words and my actions.
Now let’s flip this around. What about the times when I have been in a relationship and thought I was responsible for my partner’s happiness? When I thought only I could show them the path to their own happiness. Well here’s the thing – aside from that being quite an arrogant assumption on my part - if you agree that we are all individually responsible for our own happiness, and only we ourselves can bring that sense of true happiness into our lives, then perhaps when we try and do that for someone else, we actually prevent them from achieving it - we get in the way of them finding sustainable happiness.
If they hold the key to the door of their sustainable happiness, then no amount of interfering from you will help them open it. You might well provide temporary happiness, but the minute you step away, it disappears. It’s a huge weight of responsibility on your shoulders, a breeding ground for dependency issues and an unsustainable source of happiness for that person.
Today was powerful. I realised some pretty big things:
I am responsible for my sustainable happiness;
If I take responsibility for someone else’s happiness, I prevent them from cultivating their own sustainable sources;
I can make choices and take action that helps me cultivate my own sources of sustainable happiness.
I know I need loving bonds with other humans to survive, and I intend to keep developing those with people who I feel good around. I also recognise that it’s healthy to feel good around the people I love, and so I won’t deny those feelings. But I do intend to remind myself as often as I can that happiness is an inside job, and I have more influence over it than I perhaps realised.
I'm Adam, a U.K. based Life Coach and Psychotherapist working with people across the globe.
I struggle the same as every other human on the planet, but I think that’s what makes me credible. I’m just a regular guy, with people skills that I enjoy using. My sole focus is to help others improve their lives, which is ultimately how I improve mine.
I am a curious humanitarian and I speak as I find. I love to travel and I buzz off meeting new people. I live in Manchester, U.K.
Read more about me here.