Please please you

Some time ago I was talking with a friend who was having woman trouble. “I can’t figure out how to make her happy,” he said. Immediately he added the disclaimer, “I know, I know, ‘everyone’s responsible for their own happiness.’”

That’s a bit of pop psychology from the Me generation that has passed into conventional wisdom, but I think it’s wrong. It’s just one step from there to “Greed is good,” and you know how I feel about that one.

So I said, “That’s bullshit. When I married Andrea, I made her happiness my job.” Not that she didn’t bear some of the responsibility herself, of course; nor was I abandoning my happiness for hers. But I’ll be damned if our marriage doesn’t mean that she gets my help being happy when she needs it, and vice versa. My friend’s palpable gratitude at hearing someone explode the old chestnut told me I was onto something.

Not to get too crunchy-granola, but how would the world be different if the conventional wisdom said, instead, “Everyone is responsible for each other’s happiness”?

2 thoughts on “Please please you”

  1. You’ve completely missed the point of that expression. It means that you can’t MAKE someone happy. People can only allow themselves to be happy. People cling to unhappiness because it is familiar and it allows their egos to flourish and it helps them avoid love, which can be a tricky affair.

    It is fine to be a guide, to help a friend or lover discover how to allow themself to accept happiness. And once they’ve done that, it is a noble pursuit to bring into their lives the things that make them smile. And you, Bob, have that in spades, make everyone around you smile. Doing things for others is the best way to defeat the ego.

    But, “Everyone is responsible for each other’s happiness” is a recipe for codependent behavior which is ultimately destructive. ‘everyone’s responsible for their own happiness.’ arose out of the ashes of battered wives sacrificing their own lives for their alcoholic and abusive spouses. I believe you’ve misinterpreted the expression as, “Everyone should focus on their own happiness to the exclusion of others.”

    Remember E-prime?

  2. I don’t think I’ve missed the point (and in fact there was a bit about codependence in an early draft of this post), but I do see yours, and I should have been clearer: my post is directed at those who do misinterpret the expression the way you thought I did. (And I believe there are a lot of them.)

    I had forgotten all about E-Prime, thanks for reminding me about it! And now I have to rewrite the paragraph above:

    I don’t think I’ve missed the point (and in fact an early draft of this post did contain a bit about codependence), but I do see yours, and I should have made myself clearer: I directed my post at those who do misinterpret the expression the way you thought I did. (And I believe that many do.)


    Perhaps the two formulations of the expression in this post should be synthesized like so: “Bring happiness to others, but not at the expense of your own.” Or in more modern terms, “Place the oxygen mask of happiness over your own mouth and nose first, then assist others around you.”

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