Being Happy When Someone Your Love Isn’t
Do you feel you’re being selfish if you experience happiness when someone you care about isn’t?
This is a common challenge and something I’m betting every one of us has felt at one time or the other.
A recent conversation I had with a friend brought this topic front and center.
How do you feel happy when someone else you love is hurting or unhappy?
Honor Your Emotions While Supporting Others
Many people feel guilty showing joy or celebrating the positive things in their life when someone important to them is experiencing severe hardship, grief, depression, or other mental health challenges.
There’s a belief that showing happiness on any level only makes the other person feel worse.
But, giving up your right to feel and express happiness just to try and make someone else feel better is not the answer.
There's a wonderful online article on this topic by Beth Bruno that suggests that “the best way to help someone who is unhappy may being happy ourselves. By tending to our own emotions, we are modeling a healthy approach to finding and expressing happiness”.
Bruno likens it to the instructions that flight attendants give us as we prepare to take off in a commercial airplane. In case of emergency and loss of cabin pressure, they ask you to put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting children or others needing assistance.
Give Healing Space
So, you might be asking what’s wrong with trying to help others through a tough time?
Being there in a supportive role for a loved one during a difficult emotional experience can certainly be healthy and appreciated by the recipient.
A problem arises, though, when the well-meaning supporter tries to, shall we say, “strongly encourage” their loved one into feeling things they aren’t ready to feel or feel they have to take personal action to solve the problem without being asked.
The well-wisher may think they clearly see the solution and wonder why their loved one isn’t acting on it. But, to truly learn from our challenges, we can’t take shortcuts.
We need to walk the entire path on our own, find and weigh our options, then actively make the choice to implement the solution that we feel is best for us at that moment.
If we don’t and allow others to make those decisions for us, we lose confidence in our ability to solve problems and may even grow to resent others who step in on our behalf.
The reality is that each of us is solely responsible for our own emotional, psychological and physical well-being.
It also requires honest introspection, a willingness to look at where we can improve, and knowing when we need to make healthier choices.
Attempting to fix others' problems then only serves to delay the process a person will have to go through to fix them on their own.
In fact, despite the best of intentions, these kinds of unsolicited efforts to help can backfire and make the issue worse. If the person with the problem allows others to take ownership of it, instead of dealing with it head-on, it can make them feel worse about themselves.
Happiness has an energy
The funny thing about happiness is that its energy is infectious.
People want to be around happy people. Just being around a happy person can lift a person’s spirits and inspire them to want more of it in their own life.
Bruno’s article suggests that by denying happiness in our own lives, we “invite a pattern of co-dependency and lose our own identities to assume others”.
In essence, we take on the mantel of their suffering as if it were our own.
But, as Bruno points out, “allowing others to be responsible for their own happiness is an offering of grace”.
You’re actually saying “I’m trusting that you’ll find your way through this on your own. You have the skillset to work this out”. Sometimes that’s all it takes for a person to start taking the steps that will get them out of the ditch and back on the road.
Are you an emotional caretaker?
She also surmises that this tendency is developed from early life where we might have experienced an unhappy adult, such as a parent, who was responsible for our care.
To ensure our protection and survival, we then develop people-pleasing survival skills that we think will increase the likelihood they’ll stick around.
“That starts a lifelong role as an emotional caretaker,” says Bruno, “and our own needs are put on the backburner to serve them.”
These early life lessons often translate into questioning whether we deserve happiness if others we love haven’t found it in their own lives.
Some have been made to feel selfish or shame for wanting to actively welcome happiness into their life.
But, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Happiness is a birthright
Happiness is a birthright, not a commodity to be earned or bartered.
Each of us holds the key to that birthright by choosing happiness over the alternative. It’s a natural presence we’re born with, but it can sometimes get overshadowed by too many negative life experiences.
It’s always there though, that welcome warming light that fills our soul if we just turn toward it for healing.
That has positive consequences that reach far beyond our own life because, as Bruno points out, “when we are committed to nurturing our own happiness, we can better respond to others when they need support and care”.
Steps for Activating Happiness
She suggests there are four steps you can take to bring sustained happiness into your life:
1. Accept that it’s not your job to make others happy.
Take a hard look at unsolicited efforts to “help” friends or family and be willing to accept that those efforts might not be as welcome as you think. It could be time to reevaluate and step back to give them the time they need to work it out on their own.
2. Allow them space to be unhappy.
As hard as that can be sometimes, there’s a process that can’t be ignored when you’re working through painful issues.
3. Recognize their right to be unhappy.
Everyone has the right to their emotions, whether that’s positive or negative. We need to hold space for them and respect that journey.
4. Set firm boundaries.
I’ve mentioned this as an effective tool in past segments, but it’s especially true when we’re finding our emotional footing in life. Being respectful of those boundaries is a loving gift in, and of, itself.
Bruno has advice for those who feel concerned they’ll be met with resistance from those around them after making these changes, especially when you’re setting up new boundaries.
She says “If the choice is between keeping the peace and maintaining your sense of self, choose yourself. Begin to examine the ways you’ve given up pieces of yourself to make your loved one happy and begin to reclaim those pieces”.
Great advice! Making happiness a priority always has far more long-term benefits for you and everyone around you than you can possibly imagine.
So, until next time, my friend, as I always say….stay safe, stay healthy, and stay strong!
P.S. - Need some additional help with issues like this? I can help! To schedule a virtual coaching appointment with me, click here!