Reality Check: Happiness and Self-Responsibility

Self-responsibility. In some circles, it’s practically a dirty word.

It seems that a cold and frightening picture comes to mind for some folks when they hear that there’s a move afoot to promote self-reliance as a useful skill. It’s as if they perceive self-reliance to be the situation of a helpless infant about to be thrown out of the cradle with a bottle, a change of diaper, and a note that says, “You’re on your own. Don’t come crying to me for help.”

Now that’s harsh.

So, is it helpful or is it cruel to promote self-responsibility?

According to Dr. Joel Wade in Mastering Happiness, “…the most common assumption that people have about the barriers to their own improved well-being is that somebody else is responsible.”

We know we can’t control other people, only ourselves. We are the ones who can change our own lives, behaviours, activities, thoughts, and to some degree, our feelings. Ultimately then, our own level of happiness and satisfaction is up to us.

So why, oh why, would we think that it’s somebody else’s job?

It’s easy enough to come up with justifications for believing that our barriers are the fault of someone else. Here are a few examples; feel free to substitute your own favourites!

“I’d be happier and more satisfied if … the kids would pick up after themselves; my boss would do his job properly; my partner would stop nagging; the government would leave me alone; the government would provide more help; the cat would stop shedding…”

Barriers from our past can be even more attractive to look to for reasons why we can’t make progress, as we have no control over those. “I’d be fine if…my parents had supported me; my teachers had been interested in helping me; my coach had encouraged me; my doctor had diagnosed me…”

Ultimately however, each of us has to work with the life we have as it is right now. That life may be very satisfying, or it may be far from ideal.

Whatever our starting point, we can choose to take actions that make the best of what we have. Or, we can choose not to take responsibility, and instead wait for circumstances or someone else to make our lives better. And then, choose to get angry, resentful, or complain when that doesn’t happen.

Perhaps you perceive that you have a very fortunate and satisfying life, whether due to your own self-responsibility or for other reasons. You might also have a perception that while you have the ability to be responsible for yourself, others are unable to do so. They are not equipped. They simply can’t do it. They are like the baby in the cradle.

Is that a helpful perception? Or is it a patronizing perception?

Self-responsibility offers a huge benefit. I’m fortunate in that my work sometimes involves helping people learn useful skills. What happens when a person learns to do something for themselves rather than needing it done for them?

There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction, self-esteem, and self-reliance that results from being able to do something for yourself that you thought you couldn’t do.

When we perceive others as being helpless, are we contributing to their well-being? Or are we helping them remain dissatisfied and unhappy?

Do you think it’s helpful to promote the development of self-reliance and self-responsibility? Or do you see that as hurtful? You know my opinion! Let me hear yours

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