In yesterday’s post, I introduced three favorite pieces of advice passed on by my friend Carlotta. I also mentioned that I had hoped to complete the last of three chapters in “The Best Advice So Far” devoted to that advice. I’m happy to report that I succeeded!
I’ll be honest. It was hard to get myself to sit down and start. I was motivated, but the words weren’t coming. I wound up taking an evening nap for a couple of hours, which is rare for me, hoping that it would clear my head. The alarm went off at 8:45. Once I started writing, it was addictive. I remembered things I hadn’t thought of in years. By midnight, I’d completed the chapter. I read it over a couple of times, not so much to proof it as to relive it myself. It contains the most awkward, poignant and truly funny personal story so far. Today, I read it to a friend. We laughed and cringed at all the right places together. That was my litmus test.
The short form of Carlotta’s advice in the new chapter is this: no one can make you happy.
At first, as I said yesterday, this may sound bitter. Or despondent. But it is actually quite the opposite. It’s a reminder that the responsibility for our happiness lies with us, not with another person. To leave it elsewhere is unfair to others and to ourselves.
After completing the chapter, I thought of an analogy that seemed like it might be helpful. I like analogies, especially simple ones.
Imagine that you are holding a red balloon. Do you or the balloon itself hold the power to make someone happy?
Let’s suppose that you give the red balloon to a small child, a girl. Will it make her happy? What if she is cranky? What if she needs a nap? What if she had it in her craw that she wanted a blue balloon and were throwing a tantrum until she got that blue balloon. We’ve all been there — trying to make a child happy with some nice thing, and it just isn’t working. That is because of the simple truth that, despite our motives, neither we nor the balloon itself hold the power of happiness for someone else. Being happy is up to the little girl.
Conversely, imagine that someone is giving you the red balloon. Can they or the balloon make you happy? You can certainly choose to be happy with that person and with the gift. But it’s probably not terribly difficult for you to imagine scenarios where that balloon just isn’t going to cut it. What if you are choosing to wallow in the pain and anger of a breakup? You know full well that that balloon holds no power if you want to hold onto bitterness instead.
It’s both a sobering and a freeing thought to realize that no one can make us happy, but that I am responsible for choosing whether I will be happy. Granted, it’s easier to choose happiness with some people than with others. But ultimately, the choice is still ours.