Friday, June 22, 2012

Happiness Is Other People

Jean-Paul Sartre once said: Hell is other people.

The cognoscenti bowed in obeisance.

Whatever the phrase meant in its literary context, it has taken on a life of its own.

Some people take it for an ultimate truth. In fact, it’s a narcissist’s lament.

It also explains why therapy so often fails.

Therapy involves you and your mind. It wants to enhance your self-esteem and your self-confidence. It wants you to feel good about yourself, regardless of what other people think of you.

As one might expect, therapists have gotten it ass-backwards. What really matters in life is how other people see you, whether or not they respect you and whether or not they admire you.

Recent research has shown that happiness comes when other people think well of you, see you in a positive light, and respect you.

Obviously, if people admire you they will seek out your company. If people hold you in esteem you will rarely lack for human companionship.

In other words, if you want to be happy, behave in a way that will elicit good will, admiration, and esteem. Surely, that means that success will do more for your happiness than will high self-esteem.

The research did not ask the question this way. It compared the happiness that you could gain from having lots of money, even from hitting the Lottery jackpot with the happiness you would enjoy by being a respected and admired member of your community.

No one should be surprised to discover that you can’t buy happiness. It would have been better if the research had compared the happiness quotients of people who think the world of themselves and people who are respected by other people.

This raises a crucial question. How do you get other people to respect and admire you? It’s hard enough trying to feel good about yourself. Now you learn that for all the work you put into feeling good about yourself, you really need to learn how to influence other people.

After all, that is the question.

Therapists, however, will tell you that it doesn’t matter how others see you. They want you to get in touch with your feelings and then to shower the world with said feelings.

And then they wonder why there’s so much narcissism in the world today.

Perhaps therapists believe what they are saying. But it might also be true that they do not know how to help you earn the esteem of other people. Their methods are so thoroughly centered on the mind of the individual that they have little choice but to ignore other people.

Thus, psychotherapy has defaulted on the factor that contributes the most to your happiness: the way others see you.

Of course, how you see yourself is not irrelevant to how others see you.

Still, other people do not really know how you feel about yourself. They might guess about it, but for the most part, they don’t care.

They do not know how you behave when the lights are out. For the most part they do not want to know. If you insist on telling them they will think less of you.

Other people will judge you by your public behavior. And they will especially judge you on the basis of how you behave toward them.

And yes, I did notice that I used the idea of judgment here. When we speak about whether other people respect and admire you, we are talking about judgment. Most often, the respect you receive will be a judgment of your character.

The therapy culture wants you to believe that when someone thinks ill of you, you need but denounce them for being judgmental. How much respect do you think that that will that garner you?

If therapists do not have much to tell us about how to earn the respect and admiration of others, who does?

Start with people who are in the business of reputation management, public relations specialists. It is a complicated and difficult task, but I promise you that PR executives do not tell their clients that it doesn’t matter what other people think of them.

Leaders,  managers and coaches also know a great deal about this. They know that if they do not command respect they will never be able to exercise leadership.

Dwight Eisenhower once defined leadership as the ability to get another person to do what needs to be done because he wants to do it.

Obviously, it goes well beyond telling someone what to do. It is not about mind control.

Respect and admiration must be granted freely. If they are extorted they will not be of any value.

Getting someone to fear you is not the same as getting him to respect you.

Some people have been puzzled that I have often posted on this blog about political leadership, reputation management, and management issues.

Hopefully, the reason is clear. The new frontier in psychological theorizing does not concern your mind, or even your brain. It concerns the minds of other people.


gjboggs said...

I admire your work. I'm a recovering clinical psychologist who jumped ship into psychophysics and has a delightful quarter-century career.

Your post struck a chord with me. I have often noted to my friends and loved ones who still seem to pester me with questions...

How to "find yourself"? Look in the mirrors. Other people are your mirrors. You see yourself in them. Each one is more or less distorted, almost like a funhouse. but if you take the grand average you'll get a pretty good idea.

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