This week we bring you a wonderful article from Regina Cates, author of Lead with Your Heart: Creating a Life of Love, Compassion and Purpose.
You may read the original post here.
In gratitude, harmony, and support,
Am I Responsible for Your Happiness?
By Regina Cates
We’ve all heard that happiness comes from within. Someone else can’t make us happy; we have to create our own happiness. We aren’t responsible for another person’s behavior, only for how we behave in response.
I agree. Yes, I’m in charge of choosing to be happy, of seeing my glass as half full rather than half empty, of concentrating on the light at the end of the tunnel, of not depending on others for my overall peace and joy, and of opting not to ego-box with people who behave rudely.
Yet the longer I live and the more I observe daily interactions, the more I’m convinced there is a flipside to the personal happiness coin; and it needs more press. The realization is that you aren’t the only one responsible for your happiness. I, too, play a role because my behavior creates a wake that sends energy outward, just like a boat creates waves on the water.
When I was young, I often went fishing with my dad on our boat. I adored the chill of the early morning air and the sunlight dancing on the water’s surface. I was in awe of my dad’s skill as a fisherman; he would take aim and then cast the lure between the branches of a long-dead tree partly submerged near shore.
To reach my favorite fishing spot, we first had to cross a big lake. Once my father made certain my lifejacket was on correctly, he would push the boat away from the dock. When we were clear, he put the motor in high gear; and then we were off, speeding toward our destination.
Holding on tightly, I would look backward. As we raced over the surface of the lake, I didn’t enjoy facing into the strong wind that our high speed created. Water shot up over the bow, spraying us. As we sped by, buoys bobbed up and down. A flock of ducks quickly took flight, their tranquil floating disturbed by our waves. When we were close to land, our boat’s wake crashed against the shore.
After what seemed an eternity, we arrived. My dad reduced the speed and turned the noisy, smelly, water-churning engine off. He moved up front to the electric motor that silently propelled us the rest of the way, leaving only a small ripple as evidence of our passing.
When we were moving slowly, not upsetting the wildlife, I was delighted by the dragonflies that landed on the boat. Fish swam close by, undisturbed by our presence. Once, a bird sat for a brief moment on the steering wheel.
When it came time to head back, I was always disappointed. Too soon we were off again, zooming across the lake, our wake disturbing the water and everything on it as we passed by.
Many years later, during an especially hard period, it dawned on me, I am like that boat. I, too, leave a wake as I travel through life. Although I have not always selected the right speed – in the form of responsible behavior – to represent myself well to the world, today I choose to move at a slower, more purposeful pace.
When I wrote a check that bounced, my embarrassment caused me to take out my frustration on the people at the mean ole bank. When I had loud parties, I ignored the impact on my neighbors. When I carelessly threw a plastic cup, bag or take-out container in the gutter, I wasn’t conscious of the fact that it became part of a swirling mass of trash in the Pacific Ocean.
As a smoker, I rarely considered the negative impact my cigarette smoke had on others or my pets. I never thought about who was responsible for cleaning up the cigarette butts I threw on the street. Nor did I care about leaving my shopping cart behind a car or in the middle of the parking lot; I rationalized that someone was paid to put it away. When I was financially irresponsible, I expected my family, my friends, the government or strangers to bail me out.
There was a time when I behaved like a fast boat, churning up waves of drama and chaos that crashed over others and me. Looking back, I realize my careless behavior was the result of not thinking about anyone but myself. Finally it dawned on me that I could not possibly be the only person who was impacted by my behavior. That open-hearted aha! moment was what it took for me to stop seeing myself as separate and alone, and start seeing myself as part of our Earth family.
The key that opened the door to my heart happened when I asked myself, “How will my action feel to that person?” Taking time to put myself in another’s shoes before I act allows me to be aware of how uncomfortable, frustrated or lonely it feels to be on the receiving end of rude and thoughtless behavior. It does not feel good to be tossed up and down like a buoy on the waves. It is not enjoyable to be sprayed with or battered by the wake of another person’s unconscious behavior.
Yes, our overall contentment with life is absolutely our responsibility. The other half of that truth is that no matter how much you take responsibility for creating your own happiness – congratulations, by the way! – my actions do, however briefly, have some impact on your happiness factor.
You are not going to be happy, no matter how much deep breathing you do, if I have a cell phone conversation while your child is onstage, during a movie or at the symphony. You can focus all your energy on remaining peaceful, but happiness may elude you if I ignore traffic signs and make an illegal U-turn causing a traffic jam. Your calm and balance may go out the window if the ripple effect of my thoughtless behavior washes negatively over you.
Although I may live in a free country, I am not entitled to behave as I please. I am not free to do what I want without regard to the consequences of my actions toward others. Action without accountability is not free. There are always consequences.
Our satisfaction and fulfillment in life come from actively creating and nurturing positive relationships with everyone, not just our family and friends. I’ve learned that good relationships are impossible if I speed carelessly through life, behaving as if I have a special pass to do whatever I want.
Today I realize that when I care about the effect of my actions, I feel fantastic about myself. I now accept that there is nothing naïve, submissive or weak about slowing down and paying attention to my actions. Real courage means pausing enough to keep my heart open to care about you, too. That is the responsibility I have for your happiness.