The pursuit of happiness is one of the great common quests of all mankind, and relationships are the most important part of it. But when we think about what we need to give in those relationships, what do we actually think about? Trust? Honesty? Service? For most of us, in most of our relationships, we tend not to directly think about making others happy, so much as what’s needed from us to maintain the relationship and make ourselves happy.
That probably sounds like I’m calling you selfish, which is not my intention. After all, you can’t actually force someone else to be happy, and therefore that happiness of others is not, strictly speaking our responsibility. So why am I talking about it?
Because if love in the present moment is the key to happiness—and I very much believe that it is—then an earnest attempt to make others happy is probably the most basic and fundamental expression of that love. It’s important to remember that love is not passive. Without an outward expression, it will starve. That’s why people say things like, “the more love you give, the more you have.” You’ve heard this expression, yes? Well, another way of looking at it is that if you want to develop the habit of love, you have to practice.
Primarily, the change is in your mindset. Take my relationship with my wife, for example. During the first year of our marriage (which ended with her throwing me out of the house), my intention was always to be a good husband. I was genuinely trying to be responsible and supportive and all the rest. But I was still living what I call “business deal love.” Of course, I cared about her happiness, but my actions were mostly driven by what was required of me to hold up my end of the deal, to “earn” my own happiness. There is all the difference in the world between wanting someone to be happy out of selfless compassion and wanting them to be happy so that they will make you happy. The latter is natural, but the former is the key to something far better.
Now, plenty of people would disagree with this. I’ve talked with a number of other people in my field, some of them very prominent and successful, who say that honest self-interest is not only natural, but essential and that it must be the basis of all relationships. They say that the best partnerships are the result of that self-interest naturally driving us to be better to each other. All I can say is that it did not work for me, and the alternative I’ve found has seemed to work far better in every case where I have seen it tried.
Interestingly, we can see something like this proposed format of improvement through self-interest at work in the professional world. After all, this is essentially the same idea behind the “invisible hand of the free market,” that our lives, on the whole, are improved by individuals working to get ahead. If you’ve ever seen the movie, A Beautiful Mind, you might be familiar with John Nash’s real-world theory that the best results actually come when people resolve to do what is best not only for themselves—but for everyone!
Now, I am not a mathematician, and this is no doubt a gross simplification of professor Nash’s theory, but think about where this leaves us. In the wider world, living this out on a large scale may not yet be possible, because we cannot trust strangers to join us in doing what is best for everyone. It’s a sort of prisoner’s dilemma. But perhaps we can set aside enough self-interest to try for something better with those that are closest to us. In any case, I am afraid there is no way around it. If we want to live in a better world, we will have to become better people.
The question is, with whom can we start?
Have a blessed, wonderful day!
Dr. Alex Loyd