Values and Happiness
You have probably been told, throughout your life, that you are second class, less important than others. It's not said in those terms. It's said in disguise - in simple comments such as:
"Take care of everyone else first before you take care of yourself" or
"Do this just because - I don't want to hear any lip from you" or
"Be polite, don't say what's on your mind - it might hurt others feelings" or "Keep quiet and do what your father says" or
"I don't care what you want. I know what's best for you and you'll do what I say".
These simple statements often translate over time into the more generalized rule to put others first (i.e. you come last). The idea, that others are more important than you, destroys your life and happiness when it becomes your mental operating policy. This notion, "others are more important", is a vicious idea. It typically cuts you down just as you are discovering your own interests and values in life. And values and valuing skills are essential to your happiness.
By valuing skills I mean valuing yourself as a person by achieving good character traits (e.g., honesty, independence in thought and action). You want to fundamentally admire the person you are. You want to feel worthy of pursuing, not your mother's, not your father's, nor your spouse's dreams for you, but your rational dreams. Your parents had their chance to pursue their own dreams. If they defaulted on that, they don't get a second chance by living their dreams through you. Don't allow them to push you into the career of their choice, not yours.
What are YOUR rational dreams? Have you paused long enough to take stock of what makes your life worth living? What have you always wanted to achieve or to accomplish? Did you want to become an inventor, or to be a dancer or an actress, or to write a novel, or to learn to fly a plane? Have you had a lifelong hidden fascination with the culinary arts? Maybe you dreamed of opening your own restaurant… but your parents wanted you to become a lawyer. You gave in. You told yourself "to be respectful of them". Did this choice cost you your happiness? When you abandon your possible dreams…well, you know the rest of the story all too well. What do youwant in life?
Notice I did not say "should" - what "should you do" – that word will typically send you on a thought path marked "duty" and "guilt" - typically an unearnedguilt.. What are your deepest interests? I said what do you want to achieve? What are your buried dreams? What would make you wake up each morning, pop out of bed with vigor to start the day with an interest you love? Why would you want to spend another year, day or hour of your life on unchosen duties imposed by others?
Now be careful. This does not mean that you can abandon your children. You have valid responsibilities that you have chosen. But how much of your day (today for example?) is being spent doing things that are your personal rational interest or passion…and how much of today will you whittle away on less important or unchosen obligations.
If you find that you are whittling away your life, if you feel trapped with unchosen obligations and chores, how do you gently disentangle yourself from this psychological prison? How do you mentally recapture your right to your own life? How do you do so as a self-respecting, responsible person? In this process of recapturing your own life there is one major mistake you can make.When you have spent your life existing to please others, catering to their every need at the expense of your own happiness (the servant or slave version of life) you may conclude that you now want to break free. But many people break free in a disastrous, equally bad way. They switch from slave to slave driver. They may think "I've sacrificed so much for others - now it is time for them to sacrifice for me." "I've been pushed around just about enough - now it's time for me to do the pushing". They start to manipulate and take advantage of others. This is the slave driver/bully version of life-- it is another fatal mistake. You still believe that life involves sacrifices - either you serve others or they serve you. You now choose the latter.
I am suggesting a much healthier alternative to the slave or bully version of life. You can respect yourself and your ability to think. You can learn to speak up assertively and to identify your strongest rational interests. You can do the thinking and take the actions needed to achieve your values… without ever running roughshod over others.
If you feel trapped, imprisoned, if you allow others to take advantage of you, if you are always trying to please others, if you find yourself frequently apologizing when it is unnecessary or over-explaining yourself - open up those psychological prison doors. Learn the valuing skills to achieve your happiness.
(Part two - next column)
The Bully vs the Doormat
If you have some vague sense that everyone else is somehow more important then you are (your husband, your wife, your parents, you friends and your family), it's well worth asking yourself "why?".
Some people would have you believe that you have two choices: 1-either you focus only on yourself and you don't give a damn whom you manipulate, control or hurt (The "life is a one way street…my way" view) or 2-you focus only on others and let them use, abuse and manipulate you.
What a lousy view of human nature - the choice they offer you is "take advantage of others or let them take advantage of you". Do you see anything wrong with this choice? If you have fallen for this phony alternative - then it's time to expose it and proudly regain your life back.
"Be a bully or be a doormat". That's the phony choice. Many good people mistakenly choose the doormat route. They say to themselves "I don't want anything for myself. I just want to make everyone else happy." Does this sound familiar? If you try to follow this policy, making yourself into a second class citizen, do you notice what effect it has on you over time? Do you find that it is hard to stop that ever-growing resentment as you watch others achieve their dreams while you stagnate and cater to those others?
You may start to think, "What am I, a doormat? Why am I always doing the laundry, cleaning the toilets, making the beds, and giving up the hours of my days to please them? I notice they don't try to please me."
"Why do my relationships always seem to involve giving to those who are willing to take? Why can't they take responsibility for themselves? Why can't we deal with each other as equals? Why do I tend to put myself in a one-down position?"
Do you look back on your life and wonder why you have not achieved happiness? Instead you may feel anxious, inadequate, and depressed.
You may tell yourself: "I always did what I was told was right - to put others first. I gave up my dreams. I sacrificed for my family. I let them decide what I should do, whom I should befriend and what hobbies I should pursue. I lived to please them. I was good! Why do I now feel so empty and bitter?"
Why has this self-less lifestyle made you feel as though you were without a self? Why do you now feel unfulfilled, unhappy, bitter, depressed, anxious and cynical? You were told this code - put others first - was one that was supposed to bring you happiness!
If you are caught in this trap - you desperately need to know that the choice to "take advantage of others or be a doormat" is a choice you should scream- "no" to. Both alternatives lead to unhappiness. They are both irrational. One says take advantage of others and manipulate them. The other says let others take advantage of you. It's like saying to your child: Do you want to beat me up today or do you want me to beat you up?
That's a false choice. The child should answer - let's respect each other and each pursue our own healthy interests. Notice that that is the choice that is left out.
What about the choice in which you focus on your rational interests without ever taking advantage of others and your friends and family are free to pursue their own personally chosen rational interests without taking advantage of you? You deal with each other as traders, not as slave and master.
I guarantee that you will like yourself more and have much healthier relationships when you discover this option.