I have been a therapist over 20 years now, and I have come to terms with the fact that I can’t make people happy. That’s an odd think to admit here, but it’s so very true. In the past few years, I have tried to make my husband happy, my kids happy, and other family and friends happy, and all the trying to make others happy, didn’t make me happy. In fact, it made my miserable at times. What I should have remembered is what I learned early in my career. I can’t make other people happy.
When I first became a therapist, I had delusions of grandeur and I felt like I was going to be the best therapist and everyone would get better with my help. I tried and I challenged and I gave homework, and some people were able to improve their lives, and others were just stuck. A good therapist evaluates their practice often to learn new skills, do things differently if things aren’t working, and continue to survive as a therapist. What I had to come to terms with, early in my career, was simple. The only person that I can change is me.
As a parent, I started out trying to keep my kids happy, but that gets expensive and doesn’t work either. They need to learn frustration tolerance, to work for something and not have it handed to them, and to handle disappointment. It’s what makes us grow and become people who can manage the real world. I remember a time when my daughter was a baby and she was sitting in her “jumpy” seat. There was a tall toy on the seat that she wanted to chew on, and when she would try to put in in her mouth, the toy would ping back into place and she would get so mad. My husband and I watched her and he wanted to take it off, to help her not get mad, but I said that she as learning and we needed to leave it. I won at the time, and within about a day or two, she had mastered getting it into her mouth and from then on it was covered with drool. She was learning how to stick with something, even though it was hard, until she could master it. She has used that skill, now, over and over and it’s been good for her.
Sometimes watching your kids learn needed lessons is hard, and breaks your heart. Watching my kids go through harder times is so hard on me, and I don’t tend to take care of myself well. We moved to Florida a few years ago, and getting my kids through that was awful. Luckily, the movie Inside Out came out around that time, and was a perfect platform to talk with my kids about moving, starting over, and assuring them that it would be okay. Just like in the movie, everything fell apart, and it’s only now that they are putting it back together, two years later.
As an adult, I have other people to take care of, but I can’t make them happy. They have to figure out how to do that, and so do I. I have to do things that make me happy, and I also can’t rely on others to make me happy. So many times, people want others to make them happy, but we just don’t have that power. I wish I could make others happy, because it would be a much better world, but I guess I’ll challenge you to find ways to be happy yourself. And I’ll keep working on me. I am, after all, still a work in progress.