Monday, March 06, 2006

Happiness-Where the Responsibility Lies

You can only be responsible for your own happiness. That is what I have been told. So I thought about that for a while... It is true that you can't always make veryone else happy and, in failed attempts to do so, you can't risk losing happiness yourself. But I think to say that you are only responsible for YOUR OWN happiness is a cop out. It is a way to relenquish our responsibility toward others and to focus solely on self which I find to be very selfish.

Selfishness is a dangerous thing. It is territory that one ventures into that goes beyond getting what you rightfully deserve. Selfishness is when nothing that anyone else does for you is good enough. It is when nobody else can make you happy. Seemingly, selfishness is a growing problem in our world, in our communities, in our circles of friends. It is selfishness that is responsible for the decline in customer service. It is selfishness that provokes bullying among our children. It is selfishness that perpetuates nearly every societal ill that we encounter, knowlingly or not, on a daily basis. And it is from selfishness that this idea has blossomed that we are only responsible for our own happiness.

Granted, you cannot rely on others to bring you happiness and you shouldn't place that burden on anyone's shoulders but your own. So, in a sense the saying "You can only be responsible for your own happiness" is valid. Yet is is our duty as members of this humankind to CONTRIBUTE to the happiness of others. Looking out for yourself and what you want in life does not relieve you of your obligation to the rest of humankind.

Daily, I grapple with distinguishing which moments are aptly created for me to please me and when I should curtail my desires to cater to the wants of others. This battle is long and hard-fought for me because it is in my nature to be a people-pleaser. The driving motivation for much of my life is seeing others happy. I find it difficult, in fact to be happy if other people aren't. I feel the discontent of those around me in the pit of my stomach. It wears on my mind, no matter how much I try to ignore it and causes me unrelenting stress. Believe me, I try to press on and have a little happy of my own but it just doesn't seem worth it, if everyone else isn't happy too.

Let me give you a big example that may help you understand what I am saying. After hurricanes Katrina and Wilma hit land, my initial response was to sign up as a volunteer with the Red Cross. The storms took everything from the people living in the areas affected. EVERYTHING. They had the clothes on their backs. No homes. No jobs. No happiness. So I felt it was my duty to contribute in a way that might help them find some happiness again. Meanwhile, I heard about people who were also devastated by the storms because their vacations were ruined... Yes... vacations were ruined.

Now here's a small example. You and a friend are shopping at the mall. Your friend has trouble gathering up her bags. Do you stop and wait so she doesn't have to walk alone? Or do you continue walking and figure she will just catch up? C'mon, does her happiness REALLY lie in whether or not you wait for her? Probably not but small gestures that some consider common courtesies do contribute to the big picture of a person's life. The little things add up. So if you can't contribute in big ways than you just do the little things and you fulfill your reponsibilities to others.


Contributing... not creating. Not developing or managing or maintaining. JUST CONTRIBUTING. And others should not be solely responsible for YOUR HAPPINESS. They are responsible to CONTRIBUTE and nothing more.

I don't know what the cure for selfishness is. But I think the key to happiness is selflessness, respect, consideration and contribution.

Happiness is a little like money. Unless you keep making deposits into your bank account, you are eventually going to run out of money and the bank isn't going to let you take money out anymore. It is essential that you deposit as much happiness into others as you hope to withdraw from them.

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