You Are Not Responsible For Other People’s Happiness

other people's happiness

“Doyoulikeit? Doyouliiiiiiiikeit? It’sfunnyright? Youlikeitright?” 

This was my internal dialog pretty much the entire time my guy and I watched  What We Do In The Shadows. The moment I’d heard it was showing in Minneapolis, I purchased tickets and started sending Kenny links to the trailer, reviews, interviews with the directors.
Because Wellington, New Zealand and Jemaine-related humor are Important To Me. I did my M.A. in Wellington and it still holds a big piece of my heart. I love everything Jemaine writes and NBD I once saw him in the Reading Cinema food court wearing a purple velvet blazer, eating a corn dog.
Obviously this equates to love me = love this movie. In my mind, because I brought Kenny to this movie, his enjoyment and happiness were my responsibility.
He liked the movie (he nearly wept at the ‘doing my evil bidding on the internet’ bit) but he wasn’t quite as over the top in love with it as I was. Which gave me a few moments best described as hurt, offended, guilty.
Hurt because this was somehow a rejection of me. Offended that OMG WHY AREN’T YOU LOSING IT OVER THE CHORE WHEEL BIT?! And guilty that we might have had more fun at a different movie or doing something else.
But all this overwrought self-analysis served a larger purpose. It reminded that we’re not responsible for anyone else’s happiness.
Of course, we’re responsible for not acting like total dillwads. We’re responsible for treating people with respect and doing our best not to judge them. But making them enjoy a movie we like? Making them deeply, thrillingly happy? Or fulfilled? 
We’re not responsible for that.
There are so, so many things that contribute to a person’s happiness: their brain chemistry, their relationships with their family members, their self-esteem, how they feel about their job and their hobbies, how they manage their time/money/health. You can talk to them about those things and maybe nudge them towards healthier habits or carefully suggest they seek professional help, but you can’t really change any of those things.
You can show them you love them. You can support them in their goals. You can share inside jokes and stay in touch and invite them along on your fun adventures. But you can’t necessarily make someone happy in a long-term sustainable way. And you don’t need to.
So if you’re looking for permission – this is it.
Be a kind, loving, supportive partner, child, parent, friend but you are hereby absolved of the responsibility of making anyone else happy.
(even if you’re convinced that happiness is properly appreciating a hilaaaarious vampire mockumentary) 
What do you think – are you responsible for other people’s happiness? If so, whose? If you’ve let go of that responsibility – how’d you do it? 
photo by Giuseppe Milo // cc

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  1. The Dame International

    One of the best lessons my mom taught me is that OTHER people aren't responsible for MY happiness either. I cannot rely on my boyfriends or friends to make me happy, that it my job alone and I should never let anyone else rely on my for it either.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      YESSSSSS. Yes.

      I think that's particularly hard for us to learn in terms of romantic relationships. We imagine that everything will be easy and perfect once we find the right person …. but usually things are exactly the same, but now you have someone who loves you standing next to you while you're feeling the same way you always felt.

    • Anonymous

      I used to work at a self-esteem camp in southern MN, and on the first day of camp, the first thing we teach the campers is to embrace this statement: "It's my responsibility to have a good day." As cheesy as it sometimes sounded, it really is a helpful life philosophy for dealing with romance and life's "drama," but also helpful for thinking about being in the present.

  2. Anonymous

    It is extra hard to keep reminding myself that I am not responsible for someone else's happiness… when they seem convinced that I am.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oooof. That's a hard one. Can you distance yourself from this person?

    • Anonymous

      I am trying to… but part of their problem is their long-term lack of social interaction, so it's kind of a Catch 22. Plus, they are a friend, and I care about them and would miss them, so I don't want to cut them off. Just a little healthy space.

  3. Aya

    I loved this! I am just the same way about movies/books- they are so important to me, so it is absolutely critical that I choose things that are important to people I love to enjoy together. I also get super upset/disappointed if they don't love something as much as I do. I find it so difficult to remember this on a daily basis, especially when you live with someone who tends towards depressiveness 🙁

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I've been there, Aya and it's so, so hard. I always thought if I loved him enough/better/could be happy enough for both of us, I could make him happy :/ Shockingly, it didn't work.

  4. Sarah

    OMG it was hilarious right? Made me super homesick (im a Kiwi living in London). As for the plint of your post….Im super guilty of this, right now I want to quit my job but Im too scared to make the call cos Im worried aout THEIR reaction. Fuck them, I gotta do this for ME and if they arent happy/make me feel like shit then oh well – right?haha xx

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! I once alllllmost missed a wedding because it would have inconvenienced my co-workers to take that day off.

  5. Anne

    I have guests visiting and I've been super nervous that everything I'm taking them to do just isn't exactly right. This article really helped snap me out of that. We're here, we're safe, we're happy, we're having fun. You just can't do everything that everyone wants to do in a week.

  6. Kaisa

    I LOVE that movie SO much!!!!! (and yes, the rest of the post is great, too, but I drifted off to the movie world now)

  7. Erin @ Erin's Inside Job

    Definitely agree with this and it took me a long time to figure it out. Also, that movie is amazing.

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