Be realistic – you can’t always make someone else happy

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Do you give yourself a hard time for minor lapses? If so, learn to identify your unhelpful self-talk. In the process, let go of unreasonable rules you hold for yourself. For example, you may believe it’s your responsibility to always make others happy. As we’ll see, this is an impossible expectation. So be realistic, and reduce the pressure you place on yourself to manage how others feel. 

Let’s use a common scenario as an example. 

Imagine you’ve forgotten your partner’s birthday. You’re so annoyed that you give yourself a tongue-lashing. You tell yourself you’re inconsiderate and don’t deserve to be loved.

What makes you so self-critical?

Why would you be so mean to yourself?

One reason could be that you’ve broken a valuable rule you hold. You believe you should always follow this rule, and that it’s unforgivable if you don’t.

So what rule could this be?

It’s probably something like: “I should always make my partner happy.”

You may have your own version of this rule. Perhaps you believe you should make people in general happy. This might include friends, relatives or work colleagues. 

So you spend all your efforts trying to please them. Sadly, you probably overlook your own needs.

For now, we’ll stick with the example of making your partner happy. You can apply the general idea to your own situation.

Reasonable rules

Now firstly – is it reasonable to hold a rule that you should always make your partner happy?

On the face of it, it seems to be. After all, most people want to make their partners happy. But let’s look at this more closely. How can you, and you alone, make someone else feel happy?

Other factors involved

Doesn’t your partner’s happiness depend on a lot of other factors as well? For instance:

the way they react to stressful events

how they interact with other people in their life

their financial situation

their health, fitness and usual emotional states

previous experiences they’ve had.

Be realistic – you can’t control everything

Most of these factors are out of your control. Apart from being empathic, there’s little you can do about your partner’s past experiences. You can’t force them to be more interested in health or fitness, especially if they’re determined not to be interested. And it’s hard to change someone else’s financial or job prospects.

Each of these factors will have some impact on your partner’s mood. But you can’t do much to change them.  

So your ability to control how they generally feel is fairly limited (unless you subject them to extreme emotional abuse.)   

However, let’s say you encourage your partner as much as you can. You’re usually kind and considerate, and support what they do.

But even if you do all this, can you ensure your partner will be happy?


And why not?

You can’t control how your partner thinks

If you believe you’re solely to blame for your partner being unhappy, you’re blaming yourself unfairly. There are many reasons that may explain your partner’s unhappiness. Your behaviour may only be a small part of their overall emotional state.

And of course, they may be disappointed that you forgot their birthday. However, the average person normally would overcome this fairly quickly. If not, there may be other factors involved. And many of them may have nothing to do with you.   

It’s important to know where your responsibility starts and ends for your partner’s emotional well-being. Also, it’s helpful to look at your own behaviour, to see if it’s as bad as you think. 

That may help you identify and let go of negative self-beliefs, such as, “I’m an inconsiderate person.” If these thoughts are untrue, they can cause you a lot of unnecessary stress. Being more realistic about what you “should” be doing can show you where your responsibility lies. 

So let’s look at how your partner can decide their own happiness. 

1 Self-responsibility

We’re each responsible for our own well-being, within the orbit of what we can control. Sure, we try to help each other as much as we can.

But in the end, you can only encourage other people to make changes. You can’t take the active steps needed to “make” someone else happy.

Only your partner can decide whether they choose to be happy and contented, or not.

2 Self-talk

Much of a person’s happiness depends on how they think and talk to themselves. As we’ve said, you can’t change the way others think.

Only they can.

A lot of a person’s internal chatter may be negative or self-critical. This habit may have been set up in childhood or early adulthood. It may be a response to negative events that happened then. Or the person may have an inborn tendency to see life in general as disappointing and dull.

These negative judgments can greatly affect someone’s mood. However, the person with the negative thoughts is often the last one to realise this. They often don’t accept that their thoughts are any different to the norm.

So they keep thinking the same old negative beliefs. And their mood stays low.  

And much of what they think depends on how they perceive, or interpret, their situation. Here’s an example. 

Two people are in the same state of poverty

1 One may be bitter and angry at how little he has. He’s so cynical, he doesn’t expect anything better. So he makes little attempt to improve his situation. 

Unfortunately, this means he slips down the economic scale. Sadly, his mood spirals down year after year as well.

2 The other is grateful for the little he has. He’s also more open to possibilities around him. Therefore, when he sees a chance to improve life, he grabs it.

He’s actively involved in changing his situation, and that increases his self-esteem and happiness. He feels as if he has more control over his own life.

So he’s more likely to take actions to explore positive opportunities. In the process, he may improve his job prospects or finances.

This shows that people’s perceptions about themselves and the world matter. 

3 Perceptions

The way your partner thinks has a huge effect on his or her happiness. It affects whether they interpret events as being positive, negative or neutral. 

You may be able to influence their thinking a little. But in the end, they decide what they believe about life and their future. They decide how they’ll react to events. They decide how they feel and what they do. 

To a large degree, their happiness is in their own hands.

4 Outside factors

Of course, outside factors always play a part in how people perceive their lives. Unexpected events can derail the most stable person.

COVID and its fall-out have been heart-breaking for many. Illness, job losses, and financial and relationship strains have all taken their toll. 

You may find your own mood dropping at times. Then it’s doubly difficult to “make” others happy.

Ideally, you and your partner will work as a team to overcome problems. But this depends on their qualities, and how they interpret what’s happening. 

Your partner can choose to find ways to improve life. Or they can get stuck in hopelessness, and give up. In that case, you can encourage them to seek help if they need it. 

But the choice is theirs. In the end, their decisions are out of your control. 

So free yourself from unhelpful beliefs about what you “should” be doing. Your partner will make their own decisions about their happiness. You can’t make them happy. 

5 Choices and actions

So how could your partner choose to be happier? They could:

do healthy and fun activities that improve their mood

seek out and appreciate the good things around them

connect with others

learn resilience skills

cultivate a solution-focussed approach to life

find meaning and purpose in a project or activity.

Be realistic – it’s their choice

You can encourage them to do these things. But you can’t make them. And you can’t learn the skills for them. Their happiness is their responsibility.

Let go of negative self-beliefs

So the rule that you should “make” your partner happy is unreasonable. It would be more helpful to modify this rule.

At the same time, learn to challenge your unhelpful view of yourself as a terrible person. Change your negative self-belief into a more realistic one.

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