Last night, I had dinner with a dear friend, and while eating, he regaled me with the story of his disappointing Mother’s Day celebration. Apparently, he had taken his mother on a beautiful, six-star, three-week long luxury cruise, to amazing exotic locations overseas. And with nearly every meal, each port, and certainly every activity offered, she complained, was ornery, or unhappy. In fact, he said that she made such a fuss, that eventually she just stayed in her room, aboard the ship, in a cloud of grumpiness while he participated in all of the activities offered.
He told his story with such unexpected, profound and palpable disappointment over not being able to make his mother happy during their time together, that I couldn’t help but feel wretched for him. Here he had given her the most incredible setting, a butler to fetch her needs, and the genuine desire to bond over the course of three whole weeks...but he felt as if there was none of that. He felt as if he was constantly trying to make her happy, and she was determined not to be. He couldn’t help but chalk his epic trip up as a dismal failure.
At first, I couldn’t help but feel for him so deeply. I thought about the enormous portion of my life in which I had put the needs, the happiness, the pleasing of others before myself. I thought about the times when I had chosen classes based on what others had told me that I “should” take, or jobs that I had gone after for the sake of someone else’s dream. I thought about all the times that I had chosen to try to please someone else before and above myself, and how that had so often, and ultimately, led to feelings of displacement, resentment, and disappointment. I thought about how often I had set myself up for tremendous heartache in trying to be someone else’s happiness—their everything—just as my dear friend had done.
Though his trip may have seemed like an epic failure in the wake of having just stepped off the boat, I couldn’t help but feel a razor-sharp clarity forming through the cloud of doubt. Clarity that offered a myriad of compelling reasons for my dear friend to see the situation from a different angle.
The truth of the matter is, is that no one else is going to go to school for you. No one else is going to find or work your dream job for you. So, you might as well pick your own classes—ones that feel interesting to you. And you might as well go after the job that peaks your curiosity.
No one has the ability—externally—to make you happy. Of course, people can inspire happiness within us, there are those that offer up brilliant excuses to laugh, and play, and feel good—but, ultimately, we are the only ones capable of determining the way that we feel in every given moment.
Happiness, as well as fulfillment itself, is an inside job. It is only we who have the power to truly change our circumstance, because circumstance starts from the inside, out. How many of us have seen those we know to have “everything” in life, all the material comforts, yet, who are drastically unhappy. We have all seen it, experienced it, perhaps we have even been the ones to complain, the ones who feel horribly even in the most idyllic of settings...however, as I sat across from my friend last night, I couldn’t help but realize that now we both knew way too much to deny the beautifully illustrated clarity revealing itself in his story.
Happiness, joy, fulfillment, they are all feelings cultivated from inside of us. They are choices and responses that only we have the power to change, to bolster, to grow. If we abdicate that power—if we put it in the hands of our pets, our parents, our partners, our bosses, our friends we set ourselves up for supreme disappointment.
For, no one else truly knows all of the nuances that light you up inside. We are all beautifully diverse enough to desire different things, and though someone may know you intimately, no one is privy to every detail of your past, combined with the intricacies of your personality, along with the nitty-gritty detail of your life experience, and present emotional state enough to predict how you will feel in each moment, with each external gift given. The only thing that we can do is find out what makes US happy. Figure out what WE want to do, to be, to have, and then go after it. Do whatever it takes to feel good, so that we do not end up being someone’s unhappy shipmate.
The scavenger hunt to figure out what you like and don’t like, what lights you up supremely, and what brings you joy, not only lets everyone else know how to contribute to that, but it also allows you to FEEL GOOD, without any expectation for those around you. And when you feel good, when you are happy, those closest to you will relax, and celebrate that. Because, ultimately, if they love you, they want you to be happy.
After our conversation, my friend emailed his mother and thanked her for coming with him—he told her that he had a great time treating her to a beautiful getaway, and recalled his favorite moments aboard the cruise. She wrote back with glowing (and surprising) appreciation for a “great” trip, and told him how happy she was for him to have found success and a beautiful life.
Instead of working so hard to try to change someone else’s disposition, why don’t we start—right here, right now—with the one person who can truly make the biggest difference in our lives...ourselves.
Polo REO Tate was born in Lansing, Michigan, where her family has deep ties to the community. Her Great Great Grandfather was Ransom Eli Olds (R.E. Olds), a pioneer and prolific inventor most notably responsible for inventing the first internal combustion automobile—the Oldsmobile. Growing up, [...]