If we want to create a condition of happiness in our lives, three conditions must be satisfied:
We must feel unconditionally loved.
We must be unconditionally loving.
We must be responsible.
These three conditions are like the three legs of a stool. If even one is missing, we cannot support the seat that is the happiness in our lives. I speak about this here.
A leg need not be entirely missing, however, to cause the fall of the stool. If one leg is simply too short or long, that can be enough to create an intolerable imbalance in the stool. If the disparity in lengths isn’t too great, the stool will tilt but might still stand.
The three legs are not independent. They combine their effect to hold up the stool—as I said, they must be of relatively equal length—so sometimes one leg must be lengthened before the other two can contribute their proper function. Some people, for example, have a “responsibility leg” that is so short that they need to be more responsible before they can feel loved and loving. Examples of this condition might include people who blame everyone but themselves for their unhappiness (irresponsible), or people who have been so inactive and reliant on the support of others long enough (picture the irresponsible 40-y.o. man playing video games in his mother’s basement) that they can’t conceive of their being worthy of love.
Other people need to feel more loved before they can be more responsible. One example would be someone who has felt unloved and alone and worthless for a lifetime, despite working hard to be responsible—possibly to earn the approval of others. Eventually, such a person could easily conclude that working and being responsible will never yield happiness, so they just give up. Then they appear lazy and irresponsible, but the truth is that they have simply concluded that the pursuit of happiness is futile. Until they feel more loved, they will lack the motivation to be more responsible. All other motivations have failed.
On a number of occasions, I have been asked why my advice to two people in similar circumstances might seem contradictory, and often the discussion above—about the principle of uneven legs—will provide the answer.