Happiness: an individual responsibility?

If we blame others for our unhappiness, we make ourselves and others more unhappy. If we take responsibility for our own happiness, our relationships improve. Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Happiness is a state that we all wish to achieve.  When we are in pain or discomfort, we seek to alleviate it.  When life is pleasurable or comfortable, we seek to prolong that feeling.  We are built to protect ourselves from loss, and to seek out things that give us a feeling of satisfaction.

When I am unhappy, I have a dilemma.  Do I blame others for not making me happy?  Or do I hold myself accountable for my own happiness?  It is an extremely common human behaviour, to blame others for our unhappiness.  We get angry, feel aggrieved, and point to something someone else has done, or not done, as the cause of our mental state.

The problem with blaming others for our unhappiness, is that we are putting ourselves in an angry and unhealthy state.  We are therefore making ourselves even more unhappy than we were before.  In this sense, blaming is counterproductive.  Furthermore, when we blame people to their faces, they are likely to become defensive, and blame us back.  A fight starts, and everyone ends up miserable.

In order to keep a happy state, and happy relationships, it is strategically sensible, then, to avoid blaming other people.  When we feel unhappy, instead of pointing the finger at others, we can attend to our own mental state.  We can discover things we can do to make ourselves more peaceful.  This way, we avoid being angry, and we avoid starting fights.

This does not mean we can’t hold other people accountable.  But it does mean that we choose our actions wisely, and hold others accountable in a non-blaming manner.  For example, imagine a friend has let us down by being late several times in a row.

  • Our angry, blaming self might want to say: ‘For God’s sake, how long do you expect me to wait?  This has really upset me.  I’m not sure if I want to continue with this friendship.’  The result will be to upset our friend, and bruise the relationship.
  • Alternatively, we might say: ‘Is anything wrong?  I noticed you were late, so I just wanted to check.’  If we needed to be stronger, we might say: ‘It’s so much nicer when we meet on time.  Is there anything I can do to help make that happen?’

When we are angry and blaming, we tend to load up the other person with a lot of baggage and criticism.  But when we take responsibility for our own happiness, we develop a lighter touch, and relationships tend to improve.

Of course, sometimes the other person doesn’t respond in the way we had hoped, and we maybe need to decide to change the boundaries of the relationship, to make sure it doesn’t affect us to much.  Even this distancing is best done from an attitude of responsibility for our own happiness, rather than blaming the other.  It makes sure the ending is as peaceful as possible, and avoids acrimony.

In summary, we all want to be happy.  When we are unhappy, we have a choice – to blame others, or to take responsibility.  If we blame others, we prolong our anger, and worsen our relationships.  If we take responsibility for our own happiness, then we become more diplomatic, and our relationships improve.  We can still hold others responsible for their actions, or distance ourselves if necessary.  But, even when we need to do so, showing a responsible attitude, rather than blaming, can dramatically improve the outcome.