I got an email the other day with a sort of throw away comment that bothered me. Not so much in an offensive way, more of a “huh?”. The comment was this “My goal in life is to make everyone happy”.
Now that sounds nice, and on first reading it was that sort of self-sacrificing, kind thing that people say, but don’t mean literally. Except I think this person, and many other people, mean it exactly as it’s said. How sad for them. They’ve made the goal of their life something that they do not control, can not control and aren’t responsible for!
Let’s give an example. I love my wife, and having her be happy is one of the most exciting and worthwhile things I can spend my life trying to do. But I can’t ever do it completely. As much as I try, there are any number of things that can make her unhappy on any given day that I have nothing to do with. (her job, her family, her friends, her health, etc.) The choices she makes concerning her job and her relationships with other people are her choices, and if they make her happy, great, but if they don’t, that’s her responsibility, not mine.
Of course, if I make it the goal of my life to make her happy, then every set back, or everything that makes her sad is, by extension, my fault:
My job is to make her happy. She’s not happy, therefore I am failing.
Real life isn’t that linear. In fact, my job is to be the best husband I can be. That should, in turn, make her happy with that aspect of her life. But the happiness is a symptom, not the goal. The only part of that equation I can control is being the best husband I know how to be. The rest of it is beyond my control. Her happiness is a step beyond what I can do. It’s like going into a job interview. All you can control is how you act and how you handle the interview. You could go in, do the best interview you’ve ever done, do everything exactly the way you wanted to, and still not get the job. That doesn’t mean you were a poor interview, it means they made their own decision about what they wanted. A decision you don’t control.
On the flip side of this, consider also the fact that living this way is selfish. It sounds selfless but it’s not. You’re robbing other people of their rights. I have the right to make my own choices and pursue my own happiness, if I can borrow from historical documents. By taking the responsibility of my happiness on yourself, you are taking away the things that make me most alive. Being alive is about making choices, making mistakes, enjoying happiness and experiencing profound sadness. Anything less is not a full life. By taking it upon yourself to be solely responsible for another’s happiness, you’re shortchanging two lives. What a waste.