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You Have To Be Happy Before You Can Make Someone Else Happy

make someone else happy

I repeat this phrase a lot to my friends: you have to be happy before you can make someone else happy.

So often I hear of people unsuccessfully trying to make someone else happy. They give and give and give, but nothing seems to work. They actually believe that the more they sacrifice, the more it shows they care, even though it couldn’t be further from the truth.

You can give all you want, but you can’t give something that you don’t already have. If you haven’t achieved happiness for yourself, then how could you possibly help someone else achieve their happiness? It’s impossible. You may be able to provide some short-term pleasure, but you can’t teach someone something that you have no understanding of.

When it comes to first achieving happiness for yourself, I’m reminded of the lecture they often give on airplanes about oxygen masks. They always tell you that in times of emergency you should put your oxygen mask on first, then help your neighbors put on their masks. The reasoning is simple: if you don’t put on your oxygen mask first, you suffer a greater likelihood of dying; and you can’t help anyone once you’re dead.

In the same way, you can’t make someone happy if you’re depressed. You have to take care of yourself first before taking care of others. Anything else is a recipe for disaster for the both of you.

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You Create Your Own Meaning In Life

“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”

Carl Jung

Positive psychologists often emphasize the importance of meaning when creating a fulfilling life. In Martin Seligman’s new book “Flourish,” meaning is one of the 5 components of his new theory on happiness, now abbreviated as “PERMA” – which stands for Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievements. But as I mentioned in an earlier post on PERMA, one does not need all five components to live a satisfying life. Those who lack positive emotion can make up for it by finding meaning in their life circumstances, whatever they may be.

Of course, positive psychology wasn’t the first to emphasize the importance of meaning in living a satisfying life. Probably ever since human’s first became self-aware, they have asked themselves deep and profound questions about their life’s meaning and purpose. It is a struggle that we all seem to face, but some of us deal with it better than others. The existentialist psychologist Viktor Frankl wrote in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” how even under the harshest conditions we can find meaning in our suffering, and live with dignity and satisfaction. When Frankl was put into a concentration camp during the Holocaust, he used to give lectures to an imaginary audience. In this way, Frankl learned to cope with his suffering by using his imagination to create a more meaningful existence to his life. He believed that by playing out his imagination objectively, he could find a deeper sense of purpose. He did.

I believe we should all exercise this capacity to some extent, and I believe imagination and creativity play a huge role. The human mind is gifted with this incredibly ability to restructure the way it views reality and experience. And as Frankl demonstrates, we can take truly awful circumstances in our life and transform them into something positive for ourselves.

I found this same theme to be very prevalent in the film Tideland by Terry Gilliam. The main character is a little girl who is incredibly lonely and lives with a very negligent father (played by Jeff Bridges). In some scenes, the little girl actually helps her father shoot up massive amounts of heroin, after which the father passes out for extended periods of time. In the girl’s fit of loneliness and desperation, she goes outside and her imagination takes over. She carries around the heads of three dolls, who all have their own personalities, and together they go on all kinds of adventures. Objectively, the life of this girl is harsh and miserable. But inside her head, she finds a way to get by.

Apparently most people who saw the film found it incredibly depressing (which is understandable) but the director Gilliam emphasizes that we often underestimate just how resilient the human mind is (especially when it is accompanied by a child-like imagination).

Of course, the examples presented by Frankl and Gilliam are extreme cases. But we all go through some kind of suffering, and by creating a new layer of meaning we can find ways to overcome this suffering.

When creating this meaning we don’t need to be as dreamy (or “delusional”) as the little girl in Tideland. Often creating meaning in one’s life is as simple as writing poetry, composing a song, dancing, or painting a picture. We shouldn’t constantly live in some imaginary existence, but using our imagination in some way can be incredibly healthy and emotionally relieving. A healthy imagination, in my honest opinion, is a crucial component to mental health and living a meaningful life.

I believe that when we participate in art or other creative activities, we simultaneously change the way we think about ourselves and our world. We begin to recognize that we are participators in this game of life. Life is not just something that happens to us, but something that we also create for ourselves. And by engaging in art and creativity, we feel more capable in taking control of our thoughts, emotions, actions, and life in general. Being creative empowers us.

Interestingly, there is some empirical evidence that shows a relationship between mental illness and creativity. Perhaps some of this is due to the unconventional thinking of those with mental illness. But I also think creativity is a natural coping mechanism. If people with mental illness are more likely to suffer than those without mental illness, art and creativity is something that the mentally ill would be naturally drawn to in order to manage their condition.

But, in truth, I think most of us are naturally drawn to some form of creativity. There may even be a hunger for it, and when that hunger isn’t satisfied I think our lives become drastically less meaningful and less satisfying.

The moral of this post is to embrace your ability to create new meaning in your life. And in my opinion art is one of the absolute best ways to do this. If you don’t already have a creative hobby, I suggest starting one. Don’t have the time? Make room for it, especially if you are in need of an emotional boost.

I personally engage in creative ways by posting on this blog, taking photographs, writing scripts for movies, and composing songs on my computer. I can’t imagine how much less fulfilling my life would be without hobbies like this. They make a big difference, they help me love life more.

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Our Dependency Makes Us Slaves

    “Our dependency makes slaves out of us, especially if this dependency is a dependency of our self-esteem. If you need encouragement, praise, pats on the back from everybody, then you make everybody your judge.”

    – Fritz Perls, Psychologist

For related quotes see Quotes on Criticism.

Image adaptation of “Self-Conscious.”

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50 Healthy Beliefs About Money

The beliefs we have about money greatly influence our actions with money – how we seek it, spend it, and even avoid it. Here are a list of beliefs and affirmations to help cultivate a healthy attitude toward money and how we use it in our everyday lives.

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Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity

“My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.”

William James, American psychologist

William James was one of the first psychologists to address the notion of neuroplasticity back in his late 19th century text, “The Principles of Psychology.” The central idea behind neuroplasticity is that our brain can restructure itself based on our experience.

One great example of neuroplasticity is sensory substitution. For instance, if a person is born blind, often the visual parts of the brain will be taken over by another sense, such as hearing or touch. This is the brain’s way of re-allocating unused processing power only to what we are actually experiencing. It would be wasteful to leave potential neural networks dormant simply because we aren’t getting any input from that sense. Thus, brains have evolved over time to become more adaptive to these changes in our biology.

Neuroplasticity occurs inside us everyday as we encounter new experiences. Below you’ll see several photographs of neural circuity in the brain. From the left the pictures show us the neural circuity of a newborn, then a 3 month old, 15 month old, and 2 year old. As the child ages, their brain’s wiring becomes increasingly more complex and interconnected. Neuroplasticity is what allows us to take our experiences, then learn from them and form new memories. Huge changes are occurring in the brain during these early stages of cognitive development, but the truth is that our neural networks continue to build on each other until the day we die.

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