No, You’re Not Responsible for the Happiness of Others

Here is a post where I lecture myself and remind myself of how one of my personality features bites me in the butt, repeatedly, for the same dang thing. It’s bugging me so much that I’ve started writing my own passive aggressive memes about it. I put a picture of Fiona enjoying Johnson grass under the words “You are responsible for your own happiness.” I felt good.

May be an image of animal, outdoors and text that says 'You are & responsible for your own happiness 0'
Fiona knows this!

And, by the way, I am still occasionally annoyed beyond belief when people post thinly disguised “messages” to folks who are in their disfavor via memes. On the other hand, some of Kathleen’s do make me laugh, so I’m not saying y’all should never do it. Perhaps I just don’t like the ones aimed at me. Wow, that makes me sound like a jerk. Newsflash: I AM a jerk, at least in the eyes of some people. Hey, it reminds me of another meme I wrote years ago: No one is universally beloved unless they are boring as hell.

Where I’m going here is that I keep re-learning is that it’s not my job to “make” anyone else happy. In fact, when I try to do so, it usually blows up in my face in a spectacular manner. And I’m the one who gets hurt. That’s why I wrote a meme to remind myself. It said: “Reminder time: You’re not responsible for the happiness of others.”

I’ve probably mentioned this before, since I’ve been blogging so long, but indulge me as I repeat that one of my “features” is that I find sad people, see their good points, and want to help them become happier. This started in my twenties, where I tried to help a paranoid grad school friend realize that people weren’t always talking about him behind his back and the professors didn’t hate him just because one didn’t say hello in the hall. I knew I couldn’t “fix” him, but wanted to make things easier on him. Of course, he hurt me badly in the end. And I didn’t really help. I heard from him a few years ago, and he was still thinking everyone was out to get him. I didn’t contact him again.

Not by me, but true.

Moving forward, many (okay, most) of my “love affairs” I now see as me trying to help someone sad feel better. Coincidentally, many had some pretty severe mental illnesses they were living with (a LOT of borderline personality disorder). I’d help with their self esteem and get them to a better place by being kind and listening a lot, but I couldn’t “cure” them, just show that they are worth caring for just as they are. Once that message sunk in, they’d move on to someone more well suited to them. And I’d be sad. I do hope the new relationships went well. And hey, I did eventually see my destructive pattern and STOP IT. Lee’s the last sad person I rescued, lol. I was also sad, though, so this time it was mutual, and we are sticking together through thick and thin.

It wasn’t just people I “fell in love” with. I also would come across younger folks and want to help them get a good start in life. Some of those actually worked out very well, and I have some great friends living wonderful, independent lives. But, I was still drawn toward people whose issues were really not something I could do anything about. I couldn’t “make” them happy by providing them with a safe home, sharing experiences with them, giving them tools for their hobbies, or anything. Mostly I now have a lot of baking and art supplies to show for that.

Ooh, this meme hits close to home.

At least two of these people I tried to help and even brought into my home ended up lecturing me for being kind to them just to make me look good. I took that to heart. Maybe a lot of it was MY problem, not theirs. Ugh. All this self-evaluation is not fun or pretty. But I hope I learned the lesson that each of us is responsible for our own happiness, and while giving people a chance is good, they need to find their own way.

I need to keep writing myself some memes, though, because it has dawned on me that I’ve been trying to make life better to some other folks, STILL. I spend so much mental effort trying to figure out ways to make their lives easier and more pleasant. I want the people in my home and work life to feel like they’re contributing to society, cared for, and not alone. That’s probably okay. I still can’t “make” anyone feel less depressed, less unfulfilled, or satisfied with where their life has ended up. It’s not my job.

A meme about walking your own path.

I say all that to try to reinforce it in my head. I’m NOT a failure if people I care about are not handling things well. I can’t rescue anyone, including myself! So, right now I’m working to get a better balance between caring for others and protecting myself from hurt. I know I’m not alone in this, but it’s damned hard. I’m not doing a good job of it a lot of the time. I’m wired to be an annoying rescuer, and I’m sure it came from growing up with a powerless, mentally ill mother, or whatever.

All’s not lost, though. I’ve been learning a lot in working with my team in Austin, and my boss has come up with this helpful way of looking at the mentor-mentee relationship. And that’s that the mentor can only give 50% of the effort in improving situations. The other person ALSO has to give their own 50%. Expecting someone to fix everything for you never works; you have to put in the effort. Thanks, boss, you super-stoic.

Sara and Ace are the perfect example. Each of them has to be doing their part for their horse-rider relationship to grow.

Forgive me if I’ve ever tried to help you and it made you upset or angry. I’m doing it because I also need help, ya know? Eventually I’ll figure out a balance between being part of a supportive community for those who could use some help and supporting my own self. Maybe even I’ll do better at asking for help. Those are some big dreams.

Until then, I’ll look for memes.

PS: On the podcast, I added that I may not have been clear here. I’m not saying you can’t support, love, and cherish people who are struggling, nor that you shouldn’t. I was trying to just make it clear that you can’t force people to not feel the way they feel. Did that help?

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

6 thoughts on “No, You’re Not Responsible for the Happiness of Others”

  1. Mhm … I think I can understand where you are coming from: You are not a person’s therapist, and if someone has mental health problems or addictions, etc., yes, they have to help themselves first.

    But something about this statemet rubbed me the wrong way: “That’s probably okay. I still can’t “make” anyone feel less depressed, less unfulfilled, or satisfied with where their life has ended up. It’s not my job.”

    If someone is depressed, than they can’t DO much about that. I mean, yeah, you can go to therapy and take meds, and exercise, and eat well, and practice self-care, and on some days, that will help, but you can’t “stop” being depressed (if that was possible, I mean … 😉 right? Who would choose to be depressed!!)

    I know that you probably didn’t intended it to sound this way, so I hope I’m not coming across as passive-aggressive, but as someone who suffers from depression as well (and I AM doing the best I can to get better!), I have met some people who were kind and nice and listened and helped and then went off in a huff because I was STILL depressed and wouldn’t let myself be “cured” by them. This is where the toxic positivity comes in.

    But, as I said, I don’t wan to assume that you meant it that way, and since you cannot pour from an empty cup, it is super important that you take care of yourself first and foremost. (Also, mental illness or unhappiness is not a free ticket for a**holery and horrible behaviour and yes, personal responsiblity is DEFINITELY important!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right. I didn’t mean it that way. I meant that their feelings and issues are theirs, not mine. I can’t force a change. That’s not fair to them. I continue to support my friends and family who are dealing with depression and other challenges. I love them as they are. And if they want to leave, I support that, too. Does it help!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay, then I was on the right track – thank you for clarifying, I hope I didn’t annoy you with my comment!
        Taking things as they come and showing that you’re on their side is definitely helping, at least for me. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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