Gain Emotional Independence to Earn Happiness

Despite what our culture has ingrained in us, emotional independence is no one’s responsibility but your own.

Couple having an argument

Emotional independence is important to a happy life because happiness can't be granted by one person to another, even by your loved ones.

Photo by Fotolia/Ana Blazic Pavlovic

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The Happiness Makeover (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2014), by M.J. Ryan, shows how to find happiness by enjoying every day, regardless of the problems life throws at us, and learning to think optimistically. In the following excerpt from Chapter 19, “Remember, You’re Not Responsible for Anyone Else’s Happiness — Including Your Kids’,” Ryan reminds you to declare your emotional independence because no one else is obligated to bring you happiness.

“No one is really responsible to make someone else happy, no matter what most people have been taught and accept as true.”
—Sidney Madwed

The phone rang at 2 p.m. It was Ana, calling from her summer program. “Tiera and Mia won’t play with me,” she wailed. “I want you to come and bring me home.” I felt a giant tug on my heartstrings—my child was unhappy. The mother lion in me rose up—how mean those girls were! Of course I’d come right over—and give those two an earful on the way out!

Then I stopped for a moment. What message would I send seven-year-old Ana if I ran to the rescue? That she was powerless to solve her own problems. That she must look to others for her happiness. But I knew she needed a bit of support—simply telling her to resolve it for herself wouldn’t work. If she could have, she wouldn’t have called. So I asked her about the trouble she was having. “I don’t know why they won’t play with me,” she proclaimed, “and I won’t ask.” Sensing a dead end, I tried another approach. “Look around the room. What are the other kids doing?”

“Well, some kids are beading,” she replied. “Some are doing art and others playing Legos.”

“Do you think you could join one of those groups?” I asked.

“Yes,” she responded, hanging up the phone.

When I arrived at the regular pickup time at five, she was her usual cheerful self. I asked her how she’d solved her problem. “Well,” she said, “I just gave up and did something else.”

I’ve often written that Ana is one of my greatest teachers. That day, she proved to me that while I may think my job as a parent is to make her happy, my real task is to help her figure out how to make herself happy.

The same is true for the adults in our lives. We can help them think about how to expand their options when they’re stuck, support them when they take risks, point out the effects they are having on us. But it’s not our job to make them happy, even if by some miracle we could.

However, there’s something about love, at least in this culture, that makes us think we’re supposed to. We take our loved ones’ unhappiness personally, even when it has nothing to do with us. We bend ourselves into knots, jump through hoops, give up what is near and dear to us in an attempt to “make” them happy. I know women who devote every waking hour to meeting the wants of their spouses. I’ve seen a man move twelve times in twelve years for the sake of an unhappy wife. I’ve seen parents cater to their children’s every whim. But I’ve never met a person who has become happy as a consequence of such actions. Dependent? Yes. Self-centered? Yes. Temporarily victorious? Yes. But happy? Never, because happiness cannot be granted by one person to another. It is earned through our choosing to embrace all the beauty life has to offer and using all of who we are for a purpose we deem worthwhile. And that is something we do for ourselves. The effect on the giver isn’t good either. Most often, you end up resentful as your attempts fail. Or your love fades as you burn out in exhaustion and despair.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care about the feelings of those around you. Or that you never offer counsel or support, or compromise for someone you love. Simply that you recognize that the responsibility for happiness resides inside each of us. When we love, we hold the beloved in tender hands, supporting their growth toward happiness but never making ourselves the granter of it.

Declare your emotional independence—your happiness is your own responsibility and so it is for everyone else. When we motivate ourselves through happiness, life gets easier. It flows. We’re not so busy fighting reality, but instead spend our time enjoying what we can about the way it is. Recently I was talking to a young friend who got married a while ago. She was having in-law problems. Her husband’s family had a looser sense of planning than she, and she was constantly frustrated by their impromptu behavior. “I doubt you are going to change this entire family system,” I commented. “But you could spend a lot of your life trying. Will that make you happy?”

“No,” she replied. “If I want to be happy, the best thing to do would be to volunteer to be the planner and then not get so caught up in their following my plans to the letter.”

Has being discontented gotten you what you want in your life? At what price? What if you rested in the easy, wonderful aspects of your life rather than trying to fix what was broken? What would happen if you tried, even for a week, to motivate yourself by asking, What would really bring me happiness now?

Learn more about enjoying life: Read The Happiness Makeover to learn why you need to stop creating your own problems and why you should deal with negative emotions to achieve real happiness.


Reprinted with permission from Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC., The Happiness Makeover: Teach Yourself to Enjoy Every Day by M.J. Ryan is available wherever books or ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at 1-800-423-7087 or Red Wheel/Weiser.