What Does Your Happiness Depend On?

This week, it was my husband’s turn to be out of town. He left on early Sunday morning and came back on Thursday evening. I was left with two young, very active toddlers. Though it was physically challenging at times and exhausting to be on “kids duty” for the whole week without extra pair of hands, my emotional happinessstatus has been surprisingly even and calm. I noticed that I hardly raised my voice to my kids, I used humor to redirect them and got them do things, such as getting ready in the morning, or getting them to sleep at night. Since I knew that I will be on my own to pick them up from daycare after work and put dinner on the table, I had planned each meal in advance and actually ended up cooking more than I would normally do. In other words, things went really well on that end.

You might be wondering why that was, whether my husband doesn’t play much role in taking care of our kids to begin with – or something. That is hardly the case. As I wrote in the recent post “50-50 Parenting”, he plays a vital part of raising our kids and he does at least 50% of it, if not more. I certainly would not want to do this alone for more than a week at a time. But what was different this week was that since he was not physically there, I had zero expectations for him to do anything in taking care of kids. It was all up to me to provide the care they needed. Obviously, I missed his company and seeing him at the end of the day, talking about what happened that day or about kids – which we did on the phone every evening – but I spent zero time or energy getting upset about him not contributing enough, doing things in a wrong order, or playing mafia wars on Facebook etc. This week, my happiness did not depend on him doing something for me or for our kids. I had zero expectations, and I created my own happiness by taking care of myself, and did what I wanted to do, such as getting plenty of rest, de-cluttering our place and so on, and it was great.

So can I stay this way even after he came back? Can I actually be this happy all the time if I didn’t expect anything from him? The truth is, when he is around the house, I can’t help but expect him to do things, and when that expectation is not met, I chose to feel unhappy. I “bypass” in variety of ways (making unhappy face etc.) and try to get him do things that I want him to do. Even though intellectually I know that my happiness should not depend on him doing anything, it is a hard rule to live by. My friend Henry once said that he (in his words “freakishly”) does not get upset about anything because he doesn’t expect anything from anyone. This means that his happiness does not depend on other people – he can be happy all on his own without having anyone doing anything for him. If everyone lived like that, all the drama will go away. I suppose one thing we could choose to realize is that when your mood depends on what other people do for you, or to you, you are choosing to make someone else responsible for your happiness. This reminded me of a section from one of the volumes of the “Harry Potter” book series – I’m a big fan – where Hermione, one of the main female characters tells the boys, Harry and Ron, that she’s glad her happiness does not depend on whether or not their team win a match of Quidditch, their favorite sport. On one hand, you can say that it’s a lonely place to be; you are unaffected by what’s going on around you. This also makes that notion of “making someone happy” more like an illusion – you are not that powerful when you are dealing with someone like my friend Henry. But on the other hand, it’s a refreshingly liberating feeling to know that you and you alone are responsible for your own happiness.

How about you? Does your happiness depend on something or someone else outside of you?

3 comments on “What Does Your Happiness Depend On?

  1. Interesting question. Personally, I actively try to find reasons to be happy, whatever the situation. In your example, you might think, “I am glad my husband is getting some well-needed time to relax.” It takes some effort to get into the habit of thinking this way, but I can tell you from experience that this approach does make me happier!

  2. Yaaaaa, I’m so happy because I am mentioned in Etsuko’s blog!
    Hold it! I’m not supposed to have my happiness depend on external influences.
    LOL I’m just kidding 🙂

    Some provocative and interesting points there Etsuko. You seem to be a great observer of behavior of others and one’s own self. You seem to have the key attribute of excellence, which is the “continuous attempt to constantly improve”.

    Here is my observation: (Watch out! I’m getting psychological here; feel free to refute my take on things 🙂

    There is me, and then there are my emotions. The emotions happen, and I observe them.
    If you see someone, say, ‘get angry’, you say, “Hey, there’s someone getting angry.” (substitute ‘angry’ with any other behavior or acted-out emotion, like snotty, bitchy, having a fit, exhibiting unreasonable expectations on others).
    Like others I say this, and to myself too (not explicitly so much, since it’s mostly habitual).
    I still have all the emotions that I’m hardwired with. However, with introspection, I just short-circuit them (with reasoning) and they’re unable to negatively effect my behavior.
    It’s almost like saying, “Some people would get upset in this situation, but not me. That would be immature. I’m more civil than that”. Kind of like knowing beforehand that you’re going to regret doing something. (The things you regret are the things you misjudgingly act out that contradict your value system.)

    Here are a couple tenets:
    The purpose of our emotions are to influence our behavior.
    The purpose of our behaviors is to influence other people’s behaviors.

    I hear scientists use the term “reptilian brain”. It’s a loose term but refers to our hardwired programming.
    We are wired to get angry or express our unhappiness to influence others to change their behavior to our liking.
    This is autonomic. (You can really see it in children.)

    Your prefrontal cortex, which is your executive brain, is our most recent evolution. It is soft-wired based and contains our power to reason and choose what’s right.

    A rat will starve to death if the motivation-inducing chemical ‘dopamine’ is suppressed in it’s brain. The rat won’t be motivated to get himself up and walk six inches to the other side of the cage to get himself a food pellet. (He’s totally couch-potatoed out. lol)
    A human, with his executive brain, won’t die because the reasoning will override the non-motivation. (Though he’ll really have a hard time dragging his half-starved butt to the refrigerator to complete the task.)

    Your freewill is in your executive brain. If you operate from your hardwiring, you’re exhibiting core organism behaviors. And this is fine and necessary in many cases but please exercise the power of the executive brain to use discretion.

    So yes we have two brains, and we use and need them both. But just remember which one’s in charge, and makes us more human.

    I now end the psychological brainstorm 🙂

  3. Etsuko-san,

    Co-dependency never seems to be in shortage. Some people are brought up to be dependent of others for their happiness, by their culture. I remember it was a standard thing to hear a groom say to his bride “I promise to make you happy.” in Japanese culture, way back when. I used to cringe each time I’d hear that.

    With that said, knowing where your personal boundaries are, and leaving your partner’s issues with himself/herself and not take them on yourself, is easier said than done. Especially when you love to be involved with each other at the deeper level.

    Tagging, pulling and adjusting often, it never ends. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don’t. I am constantly learning from the unsuccessful results. I also enjoy the beautiful sense of freedom and happiness all the successes bring to my life. It’s the best! 🙂

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