A Personal Debate: Can Another Person “Make” You Happy?

Something sure made this cat laugh . . . Luke and I have an ongoing debate: I firmly believe you can’t make another person happy, while he firmly believes you can. Through the two years we have been together, I have been adamant about this, because to me, saying you can make another person be happy is like saying you can make another person love you – impossible, unless you believe in potions or spells.

On the other side of this fence is Luke, who disagrees with me on this one – a little friendly debate we have going. He says that since another person has the ability to make you mad or piss you off, then it also stands to reason that a person can make you happy, too.

I concede that he does have a point there: other people surely have the ability to infuriate us, piss us off with their words, actions, or inactions; even sadden us.

But I still seem to be stuck on this concept of one person having the power to make another happy.

My thinking on this is as follows:

1. First of all, many of us are still trying to understand the concept of happiness and how it applies to each of us individually. Do we really know what it means to be happy? And if we don’t really know happiness, how can another person make us be something that we’re not sure we understand?

2. It’s the word “make.” That’s the sticking point for me. When Luke and I get to talking about this, I like to bring up the point that he can do all kinds of things he thinks will bring me happiness, especially when he knows I am upset, mad, or frustrated. However, no matter what those things are, he has no guarantee that I will be happy because he does those things. Talking, taking me to dinner, sitting together on the couch – he may think these things will uplift me and turn my frown upside down, but he really has no way of predicting whether they’ll work or not. He may try every trick he can think of and still I may not be happy. And this isn’t just something I think works for us.

It could be any couple, any parent and child, any boss, any person we deal with. You may call your mother every day and she’s not happy because she knows you told your sister she spends too much on TV infomercials and is a nag to your father. You may get every report to your boss ahead of time, correctly formatted and edited, and she still may not be happy because John showed her the financials an hour ago. You may give your toddler a Sippy cup, his favorite stuffed bear, a nice bath, cartoons, ice cream, and snuggles, and still he is overtired and cranky, not happy.

I think those two points illustrate my thinking on the concept of making someone happy. To me, happiness is a feeling (and as humans we experience a wide range of feelings) but happiness seems to be the one that gets tossed around as elusive, desirable, strived for. We can’t will ourselves to be happy, and we can’t suddenly become happy after feeling irritated, down, or overwhelmed. Just ask any person who fights a battle with anxiety or depression.

The idea of happiness is a lot like love – finding it, keeping it, losing it - to me. I have personal experience on this one. I can vividly remember standing in the dining room of our house, in front of the person I had been with for years - was married to, had a child with – listening to him say, without any regret on his part, “I’m not in love with you anymore.” Love was a feeling that I thought was sustained, even guaranteed, because it was written in those vows, after all, but it was a feeling that had simply disappeared for him. Could I have done any action or said any magic words to “make” him love me again? No. During the time when we were married, had I done things for him that I knew brought him happiness? Absolutely. But no matter what happened between us, the things I said and did could not “make” him happy, make him stay, or make him love me, any more than I could make a horse take a drink from a stream if it wasn’t thirsty.

Can you make her happy?

Or perhaps I’m wrong about this whole concept. It’s been on my mind quite a bit lately, because Luke and I had a couple of spirited discussions about it in recent weeks. He fully believes I make him happy. He says he’s never been happier in his life and he is sure that of all the things that he has or could have in his life, none could compare to knowing he is happy now.

I think that’s great for him. He asks me all the time, “Aren’t you happy?” and “Could you honestly be any happier?”

I never know how to answer.

I’m happy sometimes. But I’m also frustrated, okay, sad, stressed, worried, focused, and confused sometimes. When people say “How are you?” I say good. But is “good” the same as happy, or is it just polite conversation? Would I even know it if I were happy all the time? Is that possible? Could I be happy and yet still have other feelings, too? It’s a lot to think about, and it’s why I can’t answer his question.

I’m still searching for happiness, and nobody in the world can make me find it, understand it, or accept it – except for me. So, I think I’ll stick to my opinion in this debate for now. You can’t make another person be happy. You can’t make someone feel a feeling. The feeling is theirs to feel, and you can’t control their reaction to what another person says or does.

You may take them out to a restaurant to make them happy, and they are instead tired, or irritated because you picked the wrong place.

You may give them the silver watch hoping it will make them happy, but they wanted the gold.

You may go to school to make Dad happy and learn he isn’t - because you chose culinary school and he wanted law school.

You can do every action, and say a million words in the hopes that what you are doing and saying will make your husband, wife, mother, father, children, boss, or friends happy. In the end, that happiness is up to them, and if they don’t feel it within themselves then nobody and nothing can change that.

Define happy

It’s up to each of us to decide what happiness means to us, and then we either strive for it or accept that it is what we already have. And while we are doing that, accepting our happiness or discovering it, we can let the people who love and care about us do and say the things that they think will bring us happiness, and we can do the same. Maybe it’s those small acts, over time, that will help us find our happiness, in our own time and in our own way.

What do you think? Who’s right? Am I way off base in believing that people can make you mad, but can’t make you happy? And is that word “make” as big a deal as I think it is? Please let me know your thoughts . . . opposing opinions welcome!