September 03, 2014

How to be happy!

Note: You can win a prize just by leaving your comments on this article, see details at the end!

Part of growing up is taking responsibility for our existence, our well being and the course of our lives. It's also about taking responsibility for our own happiness and learning not to rely on and make demands of other people in order to be happy.

We have needs and place expectations on people to meet them. Sometimes we apportion these expectations based on roles e.g. we expect a parent to meet a financial need, a friend to meet an emotional need or a pastor to meet a spiritual one.

 Or we apportion them based on conditioning e.g. an authority figure in our home is very accepting and patient therefore we are shocked if an authority figure at work is autocratic and firm because we expect him or her to behave like that parent. 

Our expectations may also have been shaped by the experiences of others, books and movies, our own idea of how things should be or how we treat other people leading us to expect others to treat us the same way.

Unhappiness begins when these needs are not met and our expectations are disappointed.

Adjusting Expectations 

I grew up soaking in songs by artistes like Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin and Donnie Maclurkin and quite by accident I found a kindred spirit in a colleague who loves their music too. The minute I would start to hum one of those songs he would take up the tune and we will have a good time singing song after song; pleasantly surprised at how many of the same songs we knew and appreciated with the same level of enjoyment.

On one of the days that this happened, I became saddened at the thought that I couldn't enjoy such moments with *Haruna but quickly realised how much of a blessing he was to me in other areas and how if for any reason I wanted to go back in time, I could call up this friend of mine and reminisce without needing to expect the unreasonable from Haruna who hardly knows those songs.

Women have had to accept that their husbands will not talk as much as their girlfriends would or understand certain sensitivities more attuned to females so rather than badger the men, they have learnt it is wiser to pick up the phone and call a sister, girlfriend or mother who gets it and leave the man be to watch his sport channel or read the paper when he doesn't want to talk.

David realised he didn’t have to lift up his eyes to the hills (one source) when his help came from God (an unlimited source who can use anyone in all of heaven and earth to show us love and meet our needs). We need to begin to see the abundant ways in which God meets our needs and open our eyes to all the ways in which we are loved, admired, respected, attended to, provided for e.t.c

Giving up control

I felt frustrated one day after expecting to have a rosy evening of easy conversation with Haruna and it wasn’t to be no matter how hard we both tried. I was disappointed because he wasn’t acting the way I wanted or saying what I wanted to hear and rightly so because he wasn’t my robot to control. Reflecting on it later I realised I could have gotten entertained elsewhere and I wrote this note to self-

“ I am responsible for my happiness, it is my job to make sure I can watch DSTV if it will entertain me, call a friend if it will cheer me, go out if it will help me, get lost in a book if it will distract me, give myself rest if it will refresh me and pray if it will deliver me”. 

I couldn't control his responses but if I identified what I needed, in this case being company and entertainment it would become quickly obvious what else I could have done about it. The problem is we get angry when people don’t do what we want or when things don’t go our way and then try to change the people or influence the outcome of situations to suit our desires leading to avoidable suffering.

Once we separate our happiness from expecting conditions and people to be perfect, we find that happiness isn't a fleeting feeling dependent on fair weather but an underlying sense of wellbeing free from inflicted suffering on account of imperfect conditions and people. It is in the serenity of accepting our inability to control people and conditions we cannot change, and adjusting ourselves instead, that we find happiness.

Taking responsibility

Taking responsibility demands that we identify what expectations we have placed on people and x-ray it to see if it is reasonable in the first place. It also means identifying what needs we are trying to meet- what underlying motive is behind our expectation and making peace with what we expect versus the reality.

Martha Beck of shows how to identify what we feel the person must change to make us happy by trying the following exercise:

*Think about how your loved one must alter him/herself or his/her behaviour before you can be content. Complete the sentence below by filling in the name of your loved one, the thing(s) you want this person to change, and the way you'd feel if the change occurred:

If _______ would only _______, then I could feel _______.

Now scratch out the first clause of the sentence you just wrote, so all that remains is:

I could feel _______.

That last sentence is the truth. Yes, your loved one's cooperation would be lovely, but you don't absolutely need it to experience any given emotional state. This is incredibly hard to accept!

It is freeing to say out loud, “I am responsible for my happiness”. It is like echoing to yourself that your happiness is not in the control or at the disposal of anybody- that you have the sole responsibility to do what you can to be happy.

Keeping Perspective

Sometimes our needs are legitimate but the person we expect to meet them is unable for whatever reason. In a spousal relationship for instance, we can find the right time to gently tell our partners what we need and how we expect to be loved. Will they change right away or get it right every time? No, but we must be patient.

We must also make room for the uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability and dependency that comes with love. It is natural to experience the conflicting feelings of being a perfect pair when things are smooth and then being an individual when our better half isn’t emotionally available. The temptation is to also withdraw. But we can practice unconditional love by loving whether the person does what we want or does not.

We can patiently let them be and put their needs above our own, understanding that they are not disposed at that time to take care of us and need us to hang in there until they are able. They too might be dealing with something or have a need for space which we can meet without making them feel guilty. It's more empowering for us to give them the support they need than to demand, sulk, force or throw tantrums.

Having said all, happiness is in the submissive acceptance of the fact that people and conditions are not always perfect and the determined acceptance that they don't need to be for us to be happy. Accepting these realities puts the responsibility to be happy back in our court where it should be and releases the people around us from our expectations of what they have to do or be in order for us to be happy.

*Haruna- one boy like that!

Read, Comment and Win!
The best comment wins a copy of "Becoming a better you" by Joel Osteen, a really great book(Abuja only), offer valid till 30th of September, 2014! If you don't want to enter for the prize, no problemo, I'll still love to hear your thoughts on how you've taken responsibility for your happiness, Pls share! 




  1. Thank you for this post. I am currently at a place right now where I am starting to realise that my boss' job is not to cuddle me or protect me or handle me with tender gloves. Rather her job is to challenge me, to give me things I haven't tried before, to make me lead on projects that I haven't the slightest clue about.That way I can grow to be smarter, stronger and a better person. All the people in our lives have a reason for being there. And as soon as we identify what role one person is playing and be peaceful with it, that is when we become truly happy.

    1. Wow! I'm soo glad to hear that. It certainly makes it worth it. It makes me realise how much I've missed putting myriad shades of experiences on paper for other people to connect to and evolve with. We'll keep growing together!

  2. How have I taken responsibility for my happiness? I'll share a funny situation... There's this socket switch in our bed room that my own *Haruna (hehehe) is always leaving on. He plugs in his phone to charge. Phone gets fully charged. He unplugs phone. He does not switch off the socket! Drives me bonkers! Dunno why. Initially I used to stress (OK, nag) him over it until one glorious day, I realized I can simply just switch it off myself and save us both all the bruhaha. Life has been easier since that light bulb moment :D

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