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.
Saturday, June 24th, 8pm Club Passim, 47 Palmer Street, Cambridge, MA / www.clubpassim.org / $20/$22 Tickets are available here
Thanks Anne, I really enjoyed reading this today!
Thank you! 🙂
Janine Felder-Kahn says
Great article, Anne! I see how this mantra helps develop empathy in situation where resentment may build up. This is an important message in our challenging political climate. Thanks for sharing your thought.
Janine, I like how you pointed out that it develops empathy. Even now, I feel some resistance to the idea of it, but it’s a learning process 🙂 Thank you for your comment!
What a great use of this space. I went see you for the first time at passim Saturday night. Wish I read this first. I was taught “my serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations”. I don’t go through life thinking this but when I get jammed up by something it helps to remember. Like the prayer says. It is by giving that we receive. That’s something I can bring into any situation and use for guidance. I have always loved that one.
I was thinking at the end when we were making the list of reasons to celebrate: new born babies and the people they grow to be. My daughter just graduated high school and what a wonderful experience getting to know her for 18 years. I love that girl.
Thank you for your words. I love the serenity being inversely proportional to expectations quote you share. So true and a great reminder for me today! Also yes new born babies and congratulations to your daughter for her recent graduation!! What a journey!
Thanks for sharing your gratitudes and wisdom!
I really resonated w/ this one! I too am someone who has a wish on some level to be close to many childhood friends and for me I think it comes out of good but also maybe naive, overly nostalgic feelings as well. I’m someone who puts effort into trying to foster community. And I do sometimes feel disappointed when other folks don’t reciprocate or want to join but not take initiative. I’m nearly 40 and only just recently realizing that I have a tendency to be overly demanding with my expectations of what friends will bring ME or that it’s not so reasonable of me to expect a friendship not to evolve over time. I like your mantra and do find it helpful! I also notice my 5 year old being sensitive to little slights and her peers’ moods and realize I need to try to not project my own unresolved feelings about friendships or whatever onto her! Man, kids eat up your energy whether there are ever words expressed about it or not!
At the same time, I’m always seeking balance & getting better at just letting people alone who don’t make much to any effort. The truth it feels emotionally healthier to me to connect with kindred spirits in the sense of people who also make an effort to carve some meaningful time together. I don’t have time for folks who just dive right into the hectic, rush, rush pace as if they have no control of their choices & will throw out an invite a few times per year like throwing an old bone now and then to a dog (do I sound bitter, yes I think a little!) It’s always a process.
Thanks for your post & for allowing me to postpone reading more of these UM applications ! 🙂
WOW, do your words ever resonate! Thank you so much for writing this Jennie! It’s so funny because this morning I actually was imagining/wanting to have you guys over for dinner tonight, but then I let myself feel “less than” by thinking about how I’m not a good cook and would ordering pizza be good enough and I got totally lost in that train of thought. Such a good point about kids absorbing energy and the possibility of them taking it on. Thank you for sharing!