Monday, November 05, 2012

No Man Is an Island, or Rely on Everyone Else to Make You Happy

I went to a conference this weekend and attended a class about relationships.  All in all, it was good; the instructor offered lots of great tips on how to be a better friend or date.  One thing she said, though, bothered me.  It bothered me because I vehemently disagree with it.  The offending sentence was this:  "Don't rely on anyone else to make you happy."

It's a common phrase, and it's especially given as advice to single people, such as myself.  I get it -- the basic idea is that people should cultivate an attitude of happiness despite their situations in life.  They should be happy in and of themselves and not depend on another person to make them feel complete.

Seems harmless enough, right?  WRONG!  I mean, what's the point in being independently happy?  Why are we on this earth, if not to create meaningful relationships with each other during bad times and good times?  Bad times are easier when you have someone to lean on, and good times are better when you have someone to share them with.  John Donne said it this way:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

So there you have it:  No man is an island.  Donne said it forever ago, and since "forever ago" carries a lot of weight, I'm taking him at his word.

"But, Sara," you say, "I want you to wow me with your incredible analytical skills.  What else about this happiness deal?"

Okay.  So here's the thing:  The same people who say things like, "Don't rely on anyone else to make you happy," are usually the same ones who say, "Turn to Christ during your struggles and lonely times."  Uhm, what?  Christ is another person.  So that line of thinking doesn't really make sense.  But let's say it's a given.  Let's turn the advice into something like this:  "Don't rely on anyone else but the Savior to make you happy."  I still disagree.  In fact, I think he would, too.  He wants us to need other people.  Here are two commandments (and I'm speaking from a Mormon perspective here) that lead me to believe he wants us to need others:
  1. We are commanded to "mourn with those that mourn" and "comfort those that stand in need of comfort."  (Mosiah 18:8-10)
  2. We are commanded to marry and have children; we are taught that we will find joy in being part of families.

Needing people -- being "involved in mankind," as John Donne puts it -- is true in both general and romantic relationships.  Our happiness isn't only slightly affected by others; it's largely affected by others.  The effect is so great that God gave us at least two commandments that include other people.  Or perhaps the effect is so great because God gave us those commandments.  Either way, it's clear that humans are a social species, and our relationships with each other affect our feelings and our exaltation.

I think as soon as people start to admit that we all rely on lots of other people to make us happy, we will be better people ourselves.  In other words, if we realize that happiness is in large part a social quality, then we will begin to try to make others happy.  We will be involved in mankind.  We will (hopefully) work a little harder at finding someone to love and being someone to love.  We will start to follow other relationship rules that my conference instructor outlined in her class: give more without high expectations; listen with empathy; and avoid criticism, gossip, and judgment.

We're all in this life together, and we all depend on each other for lots and lots of things.  Why shouldn't happiness be one of them?  I, for one, think it should.  I want to need others and be needed.  So to the world I say, "Rely on EVERYONE else to make you happy!"

Thing I'm thankful for: Peter Pan collars


Blogger cardlady said...

Well SAID SARA! I agree with you. Except, when I can't have happiness in the moment with my you know who.
Barbara Streisand said it also: People, People who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.

5:11 AM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Excellent point! :)

9:20 AM  
Blogger Gretchen Alice said...

I *really* like this post. Well said.

9:22 AM  
Blogger jon said...

Reminds me of how Stephen R. Covey ranks independence above dependence but interdependence above independence.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

Haha! Nice, Jon -- Now I feel like if I were just more well-read, I would've gotten this idea much earlier! :/


12:35 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I disagree with this post and it centers on the Dependence -> Independence -> Interdependence progression that Jon mentioned, though my disagreement may be due to differences in the weight and meaning we apply to various words.

To be interdependent relies on having established some grounding principles, including learning to be independent. You need to be able to hold yourself responsible for your situation in life, including your happiness. You need to have the steady foundation of a happiness that is not rooted in others but in unchanging truths.

This doesn't mean the way to achieve this is by eschewing people. Someone might due that out of pride, that they need to show they are independent (before they are) by casting off all support (most likely this will fail). Carpet bombing someone with "Jesus" can have similar results. We need faith in God and to feel his love to be able to rely on the Saviour for our happiness. This is where people come in. The love of those around us can help us feel the love of God and help us learn to turn to him as the source of happiness.

The situation is similar with temporal and spiritual progression. I'll focus on spiritual progression. We start off relying on others to feed us the gospel at Church, eventually we progress to being independent of the quality of the instructor because we are taking responsibility for our own learning. Being interdependent is then to have the foundation of being able to learn despite the teacher but to then focus on how you can contribute to the lesson. At this point you start to experience synergy, where you learn more with others than by yourself, not because you can't learn on your own but because the sum is greater than the parts.

I've written mostly from a Stephen Covey perspective but some of the gospel principles that parallel his writing would be that we need to trust in the arm of God and not the arm of flesh and that we if we lose our life for his sake, we shall find it (ie blessings come through selflessness).

4:49 PM  

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