It can be so easy to pass the responsibility for our own happiness into someone else’s hands.
After all, it stands to reason that if someone can make us very happy, they can also cause us to feel unhappy. We can become so addicted to those feelings of happiness that we can forget that we don’t have to have them to be happy.
I like to blame oxytocin. After all, when we cuddle with another person, our bodies naturally secrete this hormone. It’s what causes us to feel love and attachment. But oxytocin is also what makes up Pitocin, the drug used to stimulate labor for child birth.
Now, I’m not a medical professional, but just a quick search of oxytocin and its Pitocin derivative will tell you that the side effects can include loss of appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and memory problems. Those also sound like the symptoms of both love and heartache, which are sometimes synonymous experiences.
It’s easy to allow these feelings and the hormones that are connected to them to take over, flooding us with strong feelings that aren’t always pleasant.
We love them when it’s all about that floaty, happy feeling, but then we hate them when it all comes crashing down. When the love story comes to a grinding halt, it’s time that we remembered something we may have forgotten: our happiness is not dependent on our relationship status.
When we sign over our happiness to someone else, we forfeit the ability to make ourselves happy, but we also put a pretty big responsibility in someone else’s hands, a responsibility that no one can live up.
It’s not their job to make us happy, any more than it’s our job to make them happy.
Yes, we should want the people we love to be happy, but happiness really is an inside job.
And because happiness is an inside job, it’s not based on external values. It doesn’t come from having a certain salary or living in a bigger house. It doesn’t magically appear when we buy a newer car or go on a fancy vacation. It’s not that things we buy can’t make us feel a little happy, but happiness isn’t something that we can pick out, purchase, and take home with us. It’s something that has to come from a much deeper place.
If that sounds tough, it is, and it isn’t. When we get distracted by the external things like a bad day or a difficult life experience, it can be very difficult. But when we learn to focus on the small things that bring joy, we see how easy it can be.
We’ve all heard stop and smell the roses, but how many of us do this? I love that my son, who’s 3, always stops to smell flowers when we’re taking a walk. He’s learned to stop and take the time for something little because it brings him great pleasure. My daughter likes to do the same, pausing to notice a detail I might have missed otherwise. I try to do the same, noticing beauty everywhere I go.
Beauty doesn’t have to be a big thing. I find most of it in nature, but I also find it in a smile or a laugh. I see it everywhere. It can be so easy to see the bad driver, the rude customer, and the bad experience. But when we can find our way to seeing the small, wonderful things that are overlooked, we are much more likely to feel happy.
It works that way with self-esteem, too. We can focus on the things that we don’t love about ourselves, or we can stop doing that altogether and put the focus on the things we do like. Most of my hangups about my appearance actually originated when someone else made a comment about how I look. Once I heard the negative comment, I internalized, believing that if someone else pointed it out, it must be true. Then I became self-conscious about that feature, thinking it must not be acceptable because someone else said it wasn’t.
Every single thing I got hung up on came from a source outside of myself. Which means that I have the power to decide that I like all those things about me, even if someone else judged those features as less than worthy. Why have I let other people create the standard by which I judge myself?
If the body is a temple, why do we disrespect it by poor choices and constant criticism?
It’s the home we live in, a place there’s no escaping as long as we live. It’s taking home is where the heart is literally. We are all our own home. That’s where our heart is. Shouldn’t we do a better job of loving and caring for ourselves?
This philosophy of focusing on beauty works with families, too. When I used to practice as a family counselor, I would advise parents to look for the good things that there children would do in a week and write them down. Then I would tell the children, separately, to do the same with their parents. At the end of the week, we would talk about those lists, and it gave the families an opportunity to see the positive aspects of each member of the family rather than focusing on the qualities that lead to friction. If we focus in and praise someone for the good things about them, we’re more likely to see more good things in them. The opposite is also true.
That’s why happiness comes from within us. It’s all about how we choose to view and react to the things happening in our lives. We can choose to find a positive focus, or we can wallow in a negative one. The effort is usually about the same.
We can give up our power to someone else, expecting them to make us happy, or we can reclaim it for ourselves, choosing to live the kind of lives where we do things that we enjoy.
It’s particularly important when we’re recovering from a difficult experience. I went through a breakup that rocked me with grief. The ending was so sudden and unexpected that I had a hard time functioning. I went through the motions, tripping every day on memories and a constant sadness that things had gone the way they did. I gave my happiness up, as if it was something I couldn’t have since what I wanted was out of reach.
For a little while, I let someone else dictate my happiness, or in this case unhappiness.
Then I gathered my inner strength and summoned my resourcefulness. I remembered myself and my ability to see the beauty in small things. At first, I would get small moments of happiness, but then they began to last a little longer and feel a little stronger. I made it my business to build a new life and choose new dreams that would make me happy. While I can’t say that there aren’t ever moments of unhappiness, I’m glad to say that they aren’t as frequent as they once were.
We can make happiness another person or a different job or even a certain social status. We can define it as something that we’ll have one day, just not now. Or we can reclaim it, understanding that the power never belonged to anyone else. We can be the happiness we want, but first we have to realize we’re capable of it already.
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