Most people look outside of themselves as the cause of their unhappiness or frustration. After all, wouldn’t life be practically perfect if the significant people in our lives would simply do things the way we want them to or do what we think is best for them? Actually, this is the kind of thinking that perpetuates the misery!
I agree that most of today’s unhappiness centers on important people in our lives not cooperating with us. Can anyone relate to that? Have you ever had a child who makes a decision that puts them in serious danger? Have you ever had a significant other decide to relocate or make an employment decision with which you were not in agreement? Did one of your parents ever say something critical to you that rocked your confidence? Ever had a supervisor who micromanaged your work and never gave credit for your good work performance? I think you get the idea. Any one or combination of these things can be a source of unhappiness for us and I’m sure you can add several others to the list.
While we are in situations such as these, it sure feels like if the others in our life would just cooperate and be the way we want them to be, and then our lives would be so much better, happier and more fulfilling. While this may, in fact, be true, what I also believe is this. While we are busy trying to get those significant others in our lives to do things our way, the behaviors we typically engage in to move others in our desired direction are exactly those behaviors that damage, and ultimately destroy, our relationships.
You know the behaviors I’m talking about: punishing, guilting, complaining, nagging, threatening, criticizing, “the silent treatment”, and if we are particularly savvy, rewarding to control, otherwise known as bribing.
If you are one of those people whose first choice of action is to negotiate and open the doors of communication, then you are rare. Ask yourself what do you typically resort to when negotiations fail?
I know one of my more polished behaviors is nagging. I am a world class nag—just ask my children. You know the drill. “How about cleaning up your room today?” Thirty minutes later, after the child is still in front of his video game, “Are you going to get to that room today?” Maybe two hours later, several decibels louder, “What about that ROOM?” Then, as a last frustration, it’s “Will you get off your lazy a*# and clean your blankety blank blank room!!!!” Ever been there? Did it work to get the room cleaned? In my case, it usually didn’t.
However, I’ve have had some parents tell me that repeated nagging does work but then my next question usually has a different answer—At what cost? What was the cost of getting that room cleaned? First, there was the cost of you losing control and being a person you probably don’t want to be and secondly, there was a definite cost to the relationship between you and your child. Do you believe that after an exchange such as that one, the two of you will be ready and willing to have a meaningful discussion about life or anything else about which you may like to talk? Probably not.
What I am about to say probably goes against what you have believed the good majority of your life and that is that you, and you alone, are responsible for your own happiness. If you are waiting for someone to do something differently or for a particular thing to manifest itself in your life in order for you to be happy, then you are operating from the outside in instead of the inside out.
I am not here to tell you to stop what you are currently doing. If you want to hold on to your beliefs that when your husband becomes more affectionate, your children more obedient, your wife more supportive, your boss more appreciative or you to get your education, pay off your credit cards, buy your first home, etc. in order for you to be happy, then go ahead. But for those of us who want to practice inside out thinking, we don’t like to give the power to others to control our happiness or any of our other moods or emotions. We know that we are responsible for ourselves and no one else.
What I can help you with is learning how to be the person you want to be, feel the emotions you want to feel by changing what you do and how you think about things. There is a quote I want to leave you with from Jimmy Dean. “You can’t change the direction of the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” This is representative of true inside out thinking. People and events are going to be what they are around us. There is very little we can do to impact other people’s behavior and the uncontrollable events in our lives but there is always something each of us can do to manage those things better.