4.5 mins read.
Happy Holidays! If you’re at home this holidays trying to help make the people around you happy, but are feeling a bit discouraged because it’s not working as well as you’d like, here are some ideas.
I’ve often thought my main job in life is to try help others be happier. Even when I’m in a funk because of uncontrolled thoughts (delusions), I still generally want the humans and animals around me to be happy; and that has often turned out to be the saving grace that gets me out of my despondency. Which of course makes sense if we understand the countless benefits of cherishing others.
An ex once told me (when feeling unusually complimentary), “You have a talent for making people happy.” But to be fair I don’t make everyone happy, by no means. Not even close. And my frustration in past relationships has often been that the other person won’t let me make them happy!
Which has over the years led me to the inescapable conclusion that attachment to making others happy is no good, in fact is just another form of attachment. It is tied in with attachment to MY friends, MY family, anyone we consider “mine” somehow. It may be more subtle or harder to identify than the attachment wanting others to make US happy, but it is attachment nonetheless.
(It’s a bit like those kids who squeeze their pets so tightly out of “love” that they suffocate them.)
In these scenarios, their happiness is making us happy not because of the love but because of the attachment. And I can tell this is the case because (a) my own happiness is conditional on their being happy, and (b) when I weed out the attachment for them, and keep or grow the love, the problem of frustration or disappointment goes away even when they refuse to cooperate with my wish for them to be happy.
This kind of attachment is commonly seen in parents for children who just cannot get their acts together; or in children for parents who refuse to listen to good modern advice; or in partners for partners who refuse to be happy even though that makes no sense because they have the good fortune to be going out with us 😉
One partner used to say, “You can’t make me happy; I have to do that for myself.” I absolutely agree, of course, but even so one part of me is still, “Yeah, but, if you listened to my excellent advice and allowed yourself to feel the warmth of my love, you’d get happier a lot quicker.” There may or may not be some truth in that, but being attached to that kind of idea undermines our ability to help them. (And drives us slowly mad.)
“It’d be so good for you!”
This attachment can also spill over into our wish for the MY people in our lives to practice meditation or Dharma. I confess that, as far as I’m concerned, pretty much everyone could use Dharma, regardless of their background or belief system, because it is supercharged common sense that solves the inner problems of our delusions and mental pain. However, do we care extra about our own friends and family learning about it?
If so, one way to dilute that attachment and share (perhaps magnify) the love is to spread that wish out to everyone we meet, wanting them all to solve their problems through overcoming their delusions. Our concern is than less Me oriented and more Other oriented. We can relax about our friends and family, being happy to let them find their own way to Dharma with or without the help of our fine example.
One other thing while I’m on this subject, BTW … I know it’s not ME who makes others happy. I simply have the good luck of knowing lots of helpful Buddhist advice thanks entirely to my Spiritual Guide, which means I have this medicine or nectar to give away. It’s not an ego thing, except when it is and attachment creeps in.
Not just wishing others’ more samsara
We can also check what it is that we are actually wishing for our loved ones — are we just wishing them more samsara? In which case, we can deepen our compassion, and that also has the effect of reducing our attachment to results. There’s more about that in this article.
Our happiness is your reward
Someone once wrote to me in a communal thank you card, “Our happiness is your reward.”I liked this because it rang true: although I had no attachment to making this particular person happy, because as it happened I didn’t even know who they were, it seemed it was in fact enough for me that they were happy.
It reminded me of Shantideva saying in the teachings on exchanging self with others that we need to get rid of suffering not because of who it belongs to but just because it hurts. Similarly, I need an unconditional wish to make others happy regardless of whether or not they have anything to “do” with me – their happiness in and of itself is enough, whoever they are, just because happiness feels good.
The more happiness we can spread, the better. It doesn’t really matter who the happiness and suffering belong to, especially as everyone equally wants to be happy and free — we can start to develop a Buddha’s (com)passionate love for everyone without exception. No one loses out, including our nearest and dearest. For this way our love will start to flow unconstricted by ego concerns, less and less dual, enough for everyone, like sunshine warming everywhere.
Over to you. Hope your holidays are going well enough?
Compassion vs attachment to the status quo
Thank you for your simply worded sound common sense Buddhist messages which resonate so well with me. I’m left with the need to understand the very subtle meaning of attachment without lots of dogma. I look forward to more simply put challenges, many thanks
I’m glad it’s helpful.
Loved this one! Perfect example to remind me to keep happy regardless of what’is happening around me.
Yes, that’s the key. Then we do actually have a hope of bringing happiness to others ☺️
Yes the holidays are an ideal time to watch this attachment to giving & attachment to making others happy. As a caregiver I’ve had some extra practice with this…and it really matters the expectations and energy that I bring in that caregiving room even if my actions are seemingly virtuous on the surface. So now I do a mind check before entering that room and as many times as it takes to keep us in harmony with whatever arises. Then like in that kids game ‘operation’ if you touch the wrong place & a red light & glaring sound alarms, it just alerts me to get that inner peace back and try helping with a fresh mind again 💗🙏
Thank you for a useful comment … and I like the way you put it, “harmony with whatever arises”. Sounds like you are able to stay sane and positive thanks to checking in with your heart-mind rather than rushing around like a headless chicken. Great practice for a Bodhisattva.
You always seem to find exactly the right words at the right time for me. This wanting others to be happy around me is something I have struggled with for years, it is only through Dharma that I am learning to manage it. Your great article now included in that.
An example this morning, Boxing Day. So fortunate to be with family in an idyllic cottage in Dorset countryside. But everyone woke up cranky. Didn’t like the mattress, the heating, no sauce for their breakfast sandwich, missing boyfriend at home. I found my stomach tense beginning to tensely make ‘suggestions,’ and then I thought, ‘no, just keep your own mind happy, don’t contribute to their tension.’ So I carried on with my puzzle and smiled and agreed. They are all now happily off doing ‘their own thing.’ I didn’t have to control their actions, just my own mind.
Happy holidays and thank you for the encouragement 🌲❤️
This is a great example of what I was trying to talk about! Thank you for sharing it. “Suggestions” lol 😆, been there so often.
than -> then
can’t find it!