Make Someone (Un)Happy

Make someone happy,
Make just one someone happy,
And you will be happy, too.

— Jimmy Durante

Is it possible to make someone happy or unhappy? And in a relationship, is it your “job” to make your partner happy?

This was the topic of a brief conversation I had recently on Twitter. The conversation was brief, because my answer to both questions is “no.”

Although kindness is an important part of a relationship, and having someone treat you with kindness certainly makes you feel good, I believe that no one can “make” another person happy. Each person is responsible for his or her own happiness.

You can be thoughtful, kind, caring and considerate – and in a relationship, you should strive daily to be all of those things – but I believe that whether your thoughtfulness, kindness, caring and consideration results in the other person’s happiness depends on their ability to receive the love you have to offer.

Some people have a “happiness problem.” No one can ever satisfy them. They think people only say “I love you” because they want something. They think people only do nice things to get something back in return. As a result, they only do nice things for you when they want something from you. They distrust everyone’s motives – especially those closest to them. I was once involved with such a person, and it’s miserable.

But if one person can’t make another person happy, can one person make another person unhappy? Is it inconsistent to believe another person can’t make you happy, but that another person can make you unhappy?

I couldn’t reconcile it on my own, so I asked a mental health expert. What follows is not the definitive last word on the subject, but simply one person’s opinion, filtered through my own beliefs and experiences. I offer this not as the final answer or the solution, but simply as something to think about.

Dr. P., the mental health expert, believes another person can’t make you happy or unhappy. She agreed a person can do thoughtful things that show they care. But if someone does nice, thoughtful things for you only to get something in return, she said, that’s not making another person happy, it’s exerting power and control.

Dr. P.  also said that, while she doesn’t believe another person can make you sad or unhappy, she believes another person can bring your own doubts and insecurities to rise to the surface.

We are taught that modesty is a virtue and pride and arrogance are sins, so we are more likely to believe negative messages from other people than positive ones. Negative messages from other people, Dr. P. says, reinforce and validate the negative message we tell ourselves.

Over time, those negative messages can erode our self-confidence and self-esteem. But it remains up to us how we receive, and respond to, these negative messages. As Katt Williams said in the comedy routine below (possibly NSFW), it’s called SELF-esteem.

There is an important exception to Katt Williams’ self-esteem statements. If your partner constantly berates you, calls you names, or makes threats or false allegations on a regular basis – that’s verbal and emotional abuse. If it’s happening to you, seek help.

What do you think? In a relationship, is it your job to make the other person happy? Are you responsible for the impact your thoughts, words and actions have on your partner?

6 Responses to “Make Someone (Un)Happy”

  1. Raymond Williams Says:

    Interesting and very insightful, few of us think of it this way if we even give it much thought. Happiness lies within us just like “Self Esteem.” Thank you…

  2. Mark Says:

    And now you know I can’t smile without you
    I can’t smile without you
    I can’t laugh and I can’t sing
    Im finding it hard to do anything
    You see I feel sad when your sad
    I feel glad when you’re glad
    If you only knew what Im going through
    I just can’t smile without you

    Barry Manilow (well, if you can quote Jimmy Durante, I can quote Manilow)

    True, it’s not our job to make someone happy. That’s job rests only with ourselves. But once in a great while it is our privilege to possess that power, the power to make someone happy.

    Have you ever walked into a room and seen your lover’s whole face light up with excitement and with love just at the sight of you? Have you ever gone to work after a fight with your lover and been completely unable to concentrate or focus all day, not even bothering to eat lunch? And then you call her and work it out and suddenly the fog (and the weight) is lifted.

    Have you ever looked into the eyes of your child and seen that the only thing in the whole world that they want at that moment is a smile and a hug from you?

    True, you cannot “will” someone to be happy, but oh yes, you can make someone happy.

    If we went our entire lives without ever knowing the love of another person; a lover, a parent, a child, a friend, would we – could we – ever be happy?

  3. Suzie Wood Says:

    Your last comment really got me thinking – ‘Are we responsible for the impact on how we make our partners feel?’
    While I agree that I am not responsible for my husband’s inner-core-being-self-esteem, I do feel like my day to day actions impact his current self esteem levels. No, they do not change his inner core, but they add to the experiences that completes his entirety of self esteem.
    So, I do think we are responsible for the impact and that is why it is important to ‘make it right’ when someone says something hurtful. The hurtful impact needs to be reversed by a positive one, otherwise, the relationship will suffer.
    Which proves your point, I guess, because a relationship suffers when someone is saying things to make you unhappy and your knowlege and belief of your value resists that message, which in turn, causes conflict.

    • carolynedgar Says:

      I love this discussion. I think it’s important to think about the impact our words and actions – or inactions have on those closest to us. Even if we can’t “make” someone happy or unhappy, we can give comfort and reinforce the love we feel for our partners, even in conflict. Thanks to everyone for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Angel Blanca Says:

    I like Dr. P’s perspective, because it requires us to look inward for our sense of self, rather than looking outward for (dis)approval from others. I believe, though, that we can be part of helping others to see what’s true within them so that they can choose whether to be (un)happy with what they find, although I have the same caveat you provide about mental and emotional abuse.

    Hmmm, I have much more to think about, which excites me. Excellent post, Carolyn!

  5. Kay Says:

    Good post-especially the points about we are more prone to attach greater meaning to negative messages than positive messages.

    I understand your point about dealing with a person who is always suspicious of the motives of someone that treats them with kindness, not out of an attempt to get something out of them, but because they care about them. IMO, it is tragic to have someone who seems to never have experienced kindness in their life.

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