One evening as I was driving, the sentence “Other People Don’t Exist To Make You Happy” popped into my head. Although those words could’ve sounded harsh, I felt profound relief. It’s not that I consciously thought other people existed to make me happy, it’s just that sometimes I acted as if they did.
A little background first: I’m one of those people who, on some level, doesn’t understand why she’s not still friends with all her buddies from grammar school (though I still have a really good friend from grammar school who lives outside Seattle and she’s awesome). From an early age, I believed that true friends would be friends for life (remember that song?: “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold”). I took that shit seriously
In a way, it makes sense. Who better to stay friends with than those who knew you when you were open, innocent, and your main motivation was having fun playing? Also, usually you don’t know that relationships can end when you’re a child, so you’re fully in with both feet!
I recently re-watched the movie Stand By Me, which I initially loved and cried profusely at. because it seemed to be the standard-bearer on what it means to be a good friend and I wanted to remember what had resonated so deeply. Was it the boys’ loyalty for each other? Their understanding? The fact that they cheered each other on no matter what?
In the moments where I may feel disappointed that a friend is not able to “be there” for me, or perhaps is no longer able to regularly keep in touch, or even when I remember friends I’ve permanently lost along the way, I wonder things like: Was it my fault? Did my friend lose me or the other way round? Are there just “seasons of friendship?” – that with some people, we’re only meant to be friends for a little while? Was it deliberate or an accident?
In these moments, no matter the details, I find it’s so helpful to remember this mantra:
Other People Don’t Exist To Make Me Happy
- A friend and I were in the middle of discussing launching a project together and she set up a meeting for us to talk together to her (it turns out) bullying business partner and when he behaved badly, she never called me to say she was sorry or address it. In fact, she never called me again: People don’t exist to make me happy
- A childhood friend I tried to reconnect with as an adult (because we had adored each other as kids) and now coincidentally were living on the same street, but she was too busy: People don’t exist to make me happy
- A friend I have who holds me at a distance: People don’t exist to make me happy
When I do this, I feel a heck of a lot better. When I’m not thinking of what I can GET from a friendship, I’m seeing instead that there may be circumstances that don’t allow the person to give (things that I really should be giving myself anyway!). I end up having compassion and loving these people MORE than I did when I had an expectation of them. Well, hot damn! That feels good!
As embarrassing as it was to find out that I had this hidden expectation, I was glad to know I did because now I could ask Where did it come from? Oh (I know!) it came from flipping what was subconsciously drilled into me:
You Exist To Make Other People Happy (Aha!)
Through every rule or societal norm I was pressured to follow or uphold, through any friend or family member I somehow got the idea I was supposed to take care of, anytime I got the message from any school or misguided person that I should dull my light (Never do it!), whenever I believed other people don’t know how to take care of themselves so I must do it, I was believing this.
And therein lies the cycle. If I exist to make other people happy, they must exist to make me happy. This must be the agreement that was made though we never actually made it. And now that I know it’s out there and I accidentally opted in, I can opt out.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I will create happy circumstances for some people (And I really want to! Sharing joy seems like one of the best parts of living). And I’m sure other people will bring happiness to me (and I will appreciatively receive it!). That said, people don’t exist to cater to my emotional needs, it’s not a given or even an appropriate demand, it’s codependent and I feel a whole lot happier not carrying that expectation of myself and others.
Try it next time. When someone disappoints you, say “__(Insert name) doesn’t exist to make me happy” See how it feels. I hope other people will do this for me. If I’m not measuring up, they can say “oh Anne doesn’t exist to make me happy, she might and she might not. She’s a person and she’s got her own life purpose. I wonder what she’ll do next?”
“Fly free little bird!”
As always, I LOVE hearing from you. How have your expectations of others and yourself around happiness played out?
Please leave a comment below.
Ps: Here are the details on two upcoming NYC & Boston shows!
Saturday, May 6th, 7pm a co-bill with Natalia Zukerman at Music on 4 in New York City (A House Concert on the Upper West Side). This show is by reservation only and will sell out. Tickets are $25 and can be reserved through musicon4 AT earthlink.net or 212-662-2320. Refreshments, wine and beer will be served.