Love is what connects us to others. It provides us with fond memories of those around us. The truth about love, though, is that it often links our own happiness with the happiness of others. We feel compelled to make those we love who are unhappy, happy.
It is because of our own discomfort in seeing those we love unhappy that we seek out ways to change the situation, justifying our behaviors on the idea that we are helping them. Or, we begin to see our own happiness fade in the presence of an unhappy friend or family member.
Suffering is a necessary part of life and important for growth. This concept is hard to imagine, as it goes against what we’ve learned. Our instinct is to immediately fix or run from suffering, as if it were a fire. And so it makes sense that we see the unhappiness in those we love as a sort of fire that needs to be extinguished.
But what research has found is that not only is it harmful to feel responsible for others’ emotions, but there is also a simple and profound solution. Be happy.
Research consistently suggests that the key to helping those we love who are unhappy is to be happy ourselves. You may be thinking, how can I possibly strive for my own happiness when someone else is not? It seems selfish. It’s not.
We are influential beings. Just as we can be brought down by another’s negative mood, our own happiness can serve as a platform for others to take care of their own happiness.
So what can we do if someone we love is unhappy?
- Be patient and give them space. Allow them time to process their thoughts and figure out what needs to be done. Don’t push or expect change at your pace.
- Give yourself space. It is not selfish to need some distance when you feel the impact of their unhappiness.
- Set boundaries. Their unhappiness is not yours to own. It is theirs. Be careful not to enmesh your own emotions with theirs. It’s a dangerous road to dependency when you link your feelings and emotions with others.
- Be happy. Show your loved one what it looks like to be happy. It’s contagious. When we show the best version of ourselves, it inspires others to do the same.
We all face struggles. It is not when others take responsibility for our health and well-being that we thrive. Rather, we get to a better place emotionally when we take responsibility for our wellness. Share your happiness with those you love.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Jul 2014
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Werrbach, M. (2014). When Someone You Love is Unhappy. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/07/09/when-someone-you-love-is-unhappy/