When my son was little I often took him to the local playground to burn off some steam. I was a young cop back then, frequently assigned to graveyard shifts. The playground visits were great because my son got to play with other kids and I could read my newspaper and relax. Except for one thing. The constant, “Hey Dad, look at me!”
Kids thrive on attention. Even on the playground with tons of other pip-squeaks, our children want an audience. They want to know we’re watching. They want our interest and approval. Which is fine, because we’re dealing with young spirits and developing personalities. Our interest, affection and reassurance show our kids we love them.
Unhappy campers at work
When I became a supervisor at work I discovered how important it was to take an interest in my subordinates. I’d craft employee of the month awards, point out exemplary work and try to be encouraging. Invariably, however, there were always a few unhappy campers. Employees who always had a complaint, blamed management for all their woes and infected others with their negativity.
Conversely, there were also a small number of employees who never complained. They seemed to go through their work days blissfully. While they appreciated recognition, it wasn’t as important to them.
The same phenomena can be found in relationships. Some people are well adjusted and secure in their relationships, while others persistently complain. As a cop I’ve been to countless domestic squabbles. Predominantly, the arguments were because one person was not doing something for the other.
Don’t be held hostage by others
Bottom line, there are a lot of unhappy people out there. And the reason a lot of them are unhappy? Because they constantly seek the approval of others. Relying on others for validation is a recipe for failure. If you want to take charge of your unhappiness, stop relying on the approval and attention of others. Chart your own course and do what fulfills you.
It’s fine when you’re six years old and you want Dad to see how well you ride your bike. But you’re an adult now. “Happiness comes from within” is more than a cliche. It happens to be largely true. If you look to your spouse or boss to validate your life, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s not their job. Your spouse should complement your life, not be responsible for it. And your boss should be like a coach, not a therapist.
Author and psychologist Gordon Livingston wrote “any relationship is under the control of the person who cares the least.” If you hinge your happiness on your spouse’s approval and attention, then you empower him/her over you. That’s crazy. Seeking honest feedback and input is one thing. We should all allow for constructive criticism. But the minute we put our emotional well being on the mercy of others, we’re on thin ice.
Accept feedback, but don’t be ruled by it
Yes, we need love and support in our lives. Yes, it’s gratifying to be celebrated and recognized for our work and contributions. But you’ve got to do things mainly because it’s gratifying to you alone. Do work that pleases you and the rest will take care of itself. This doesn’t mean being selfish. We’ll always have to play ball with coworkers and our spouses. Sometimes we have to put ourselves second. But you must do things that satisfy your own soul, not others.
Pursue your passions. Find work that’s meaningful to you. Take responsibility for your own happiness. Be self determined. Don’t export your happiness to the whims and opinions of others. You’re no longer six years old on the playground. Stop relying on the approval and validation of others. The answer to your happiness lies within yourself. It always has.