What We All Need to Be Happy.
In order to be happy, we have to accomplish three conditions:
We must feel loved.
We must be loving.
We must be responsible.
If we diligently attend to these three goals, we WILL be happy. It's predictable. It's guaranteed.
For now, I'll address primarily the third condition—being responsible—even though each is related to the others. Most of the conflicts that people present to me involve serious confusion about what each person is responsible for. Martha, for example, calls me and tells me how angry she is that Matt has done something inconsiderate, or that he has failed to be loving in some way. In most cases, she is right. Indeed Matt has been less than optimally loving, but that is NOT why she is upset. She's upset because she has failed to understand or remember what each of them is responsible for.
What is Matt's responsibility?
To love Martha as well as he can in any given moment.
It is NOT his responsibility to love her in exactly the way she needs, or as much as she needs. He may well be incapable of filling her needs, so to push that responsibility on him is like milking a bull. Never milk a bull.
What is Martha's responsibility?
To love Matt as well as she can.
To accept and be grateful for whatever love Matt can offer.
It's very tempting to tell others what they're responsible for—almost always based on our needs—and to control their behavior to conform to these responsibilities. Sometimes we succeed in these efforts to control, but eventually people resent being controlled, and any possibility of Real Love disappears. We must trust that loving people and accepting the love they are capable of giving is far more effective than anger and disappointment and controlling.
Our Responsibility—to Love People as Well as We Can
Our responsibility is to love people as well as we can. Period. End of discussion. We can play around with the limits of our loving and stretch ourselves, which is how we grow, but if we try to love well beyond our abilities—or even right at our limits for extended periods—we'll empty out completely, and then we can't love at all. At that point everyone loses, so how could that be loving?
When people are especially empty or afraid—when they're in pain—it's common for them to assign us the responsibility of helping them, or even to save them. And we often accept that responsibility. After all, would it not be cruel to refuse someone in pain?
But the pain of other people does not change our responsibility, which is to love only as well as we can. If our abilities fall short of what someone needs, we are not responsible for the difference. No matter what the conditions are around us, we still can love only as much as we are able. If we take the responsibility for more than that—if we believe we are responsible to save people—several negative consequences are likely to follow:
- We lose our ability to freely choose how and how much we love.
- Without the freedom to truly choose how and when we'll love, what we offer won't be unconditional.
- If our love is not unconditional, the effect is rarely positive. People can sense when we "give" conditionally or out of obligation.
- We become egotistical and proud when we seem to succeed in dispensing salvation.
- We become afraid that we can't save people, and that fear will render us incapable of loving.
- Unintentionally, we manipulate people to save them or at least to create the appearance of doing so.
- We tend to want approval or even admiration from those we "save."
- We get discouraged if we don't succeed.
- We become angry at ourselves and others when we fail.
- We feel guilty if we fail.
In short, it's important to identify our responsibility in any situation, or we will create conditions where unhappiness is almost guaranteed.
Learn how to truly love others and give them what they need.