First, you need to take a step back, are you trying to make people happy, or are you trying to make them happy with you? Because the two are very different.
One should be attempted only with caution and in certain circumstances, and the other shouldn’t be tried at all. Ever.
And yet, most often, when we talk of trying to make someone happy we mean the latter. We mean that we want people to be happy with us. We mean that we want them to like us, to grin when they see us, and to feel comfortable when we are around.
But all of our efforts — all the smiles and nods, the TV shows, and the listening ears — are frustrated. Instead of people who are more excited to see us, we find that people have become ambivalent to our existence, or worse, they actually seem to recoil when we walk in the room.
Why? What can we do to make them like us?
Stop being a yes man
Stop telling people that you will do everything they suggest for your life. And stop trying to make every decision based on what you think they want. Because most the time, they don’t want — or expect — you to conform to the way they live their lives.
They don’t want a clone of themselves, they want a relationship with someone else. Someone else who lives their own life makes their own decisions, and who is just willing to spend some of that time with them.
Being a yes man undermines all of those basic desires. When you start trying to format your life around what another person wants, you are living their life, not yours. You are making their decisions, not yours. And eventually, being someone else will become so exhausting that spending time with that person will become stifle you.
Stop being a yes man because
You’ll burn out
It is exhausting enough following another person’s regime — or what you think is their regime — for your life. But as this becomes more and more of a habit, the list of people you are trying to make “happy with you” will grow and you will be squashed by everyone’s “expectations.”
You can try to juggle what everyone wants, but eventually, the balls will come crashing down.
You’ll blow out
Ah, the terrible teens. My parents had four teenagers living under one roof at one time, and whenever anyone found out they would always have a comparable reaction.
Some variation on, “You must be a superhuman,” “I could never do that,” or even sometimes, “I’m so sorry.”
Why are people so afraid of teenagers? Because teenagers are horrible, right? Because they don’t listen to you, they fight with you, they are petty. etc, etc, etc.
Yes, in some ways this is true, but it makes sense, in a way. Teens have just reached an age where they start understanding their own beliefs, and they find that some of those conflict with their parents. So they blow out.
Their entire lives up to this point have been pleasing their parents. Going where their parents want them to go, saying what they want them to say, and living the way they want them to live. But they have just found autonomy and they often react the way an immature adult would when being stifled against their will — they explode.
And eventually, you will do the same. Because if you keep trying to do everything they tell you then you will begin to feel stifled by your self imposed childhood. And even if it does seemingly make the person happier, it certainly won’t make you happy.
Once we become unhappy, we begin getting lazy in our people-pleasing, and instead of making all of our decisions based on that person — if we ever made all of them based on them — we only make certain decisions or say certain things when they are within earshot.
But once they leave, we have to nurture ourselves, and we often do that by reacting powerfully to the other direction. Once this becomes a habit, we learn that
The grapevine is alive and well
Your friends know your friends. This fact is a massive part of Facebook’s friend suggestion algorithm for a reason.
And as you start blowing out differently around different people, eventually your group of friends each becomes used to a slightly different person.
Then they begin planning a surprise party for you, and they become confused as hell, and frustrated in the process.
Someone thinks you are nearly as obsessed with Harry Potter as they are, and someone else is pretty sure you could care less about it. And so on, and so forth.
People feel betrayed, they feel lied to, they heard through the grapevine that you aren’t the person you said you were.
Because lies, and even half-truths, always find their way to the light, and when it comes to how you relate with people. That is a big deal.
But if we instead take the time to be honest from the beginning and not worry about meeting every expectation they have for themselves, I think we would find that most people would say
“Respect, man, Respect”
When you have the confidence to live your own life and to live it without forcing others to live it as well. It is respectable when you are okay with the fact that you disagree with them on whether to eat meat, watch magic-laden movies, or pray before you eat.
People respect those who live honestly because those are the kind of people you can talk freely around without being afraid you are offending them. The kind of people you can have a conversation with that goes deeper than each of you confirming each other’s beliefs.
Sometimes this won’t be true, sometimes people will hate that you don’t do what they say, and they will be frustrated by your shield of honesty.
But you probably don’t want to be around these people anyway, if they can’t handle that someone is different then them, let them go, let them find their secret twin and enjoy agreeing with them. That is their prerogative, but yours shouldn’t be to make them happy with you. Because
We can’t make everyone happy
We probably can’t make anyone happy. Because their happiness is essentially up to them.
You can do things that may increase their joy when around you, but you can’t translate that into general contentment with life.
In healthy relationships, people make sacrifices for each other. Maybe you will watch a horror movie with your friend even though you can’t handle jump scares. Or you will go with them to eat their favorite food at a place you don’t really like. But in order to remain healthy, you are both honest about your true likes and dislikes, and when it comes to sacrificing, both people take the time to sacrifice for each other.
Instead of doing everything that the other person wants all the time, you pick and choose the most relevant moments. And even in those times, you don’t feel stifled by the other person, because you know that the other person isn’t forcing you to do anything.
You are choosing to make a sacrifice because their momentary happiness is more important to you than your own.
In the long run, this doesn’t only make the other person a little bit happier, but it also makes you happier. You will forget that one nightmare you had after the horror movie, but you will enjoy the benefits that strengthening your love muscle gives.
We can’t sacrifice all the time. We don’t have the bandwidth to be a constant stream of happiness giving bubbles. Nor should we be, because bubbles sometimes pop on the ground, get soap everywhere, and require clean up.
So… making people happy?
Stop trying so hard, and just live honestly.
Some people won’t like it, some people will leave, some people won’t be able to stand that you are confident enough to look them in the eye and say, I disagree. But the ones that you really want to live near will relax into it.
They won’t feel the need to control you. And your disagreements will make your relationship stronger because every time you shake the bridge, and a couple of bricks fall down, you will repair it and put in reinforcements.
And as we live more confidently, we should take the time to realize that our identity can’t be staked on other peoples happiness. Epictetus said
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things that are beyond the power of our will.”
And he was right. Becoming stuck on things we have no control over leads to disappointment again an again, and it is similar to people.
We can’t will other people to be happy. In the end, their happiness is up to them and the momentary pleasure they get out of you “liking” Harry Potter, won’t make them happy in the long run.
Don’t make people happy?
Yes and no, we shouldn’t try to make people happy with us. That can only lead to lies and the ensuing heartache. Instead, we should take the time to live honestly and to pursue our own contentment separate from their emotional state.
The wonderful thing about people who could be happy separate from you is that they are even happier when you are there. They are stable, not as easily offended, and are coming from a place of love when they sacrifice for you. Not a place of insecurity or fear of loss.
Making people happy isn’t our jobs, it is our jobs to be the best people we can be. And the best we can be isn’t what other people tell us it is.