One thing that happens to me often, is that I see someone living a life that I think I would be unhappy to live and I feel immediately sorry for them. I meet a grumpy server or an annoyed post office worker and I think that they have to be suffering because life hasn´t been fair to them. Other times, I assume people are unhappy because they do something I won´t be able to enjoy doing and I project my resistance onto them. When we pity someone, feel sorry for them or worry about them there is always one person suffering and it´s not necessarily them. People might be happy living a life you´d never live and they might be happy doing things you´d never do while the only person suffering is you, because of what you believe about their life.
Happiness looks different for everyone
To assume what a happy life should look like for somebody else is bluntly said arrogant. We all have different paths and different backgrounds, so comparing your life to mine undermines our worth, education and the effort of our families to raise us into decent human beings. For my friend happiness may look like partying every night while I´d be happy staying at home by myself and reading a book. We would be both in a state of bliss doing completely different things. However, if she started worrying about me because I stayed alone and she blamed herself for not staying with me, her evening would be ruined, while I would be probably happy the whole time. Every time I think you should be healthier, or happier, or you need a better job, I´m going to suffer because I project my expectations of happiness onto you. Meanwhile, you might be exactly where you need to be in order to get where you´re supposed to go.
You can´t give what you don´t have
When you know someone close to you who is suffering, the only way you can help them is to stay in a state of clarity. I had to learn this the hard way. You are not going to help anyone by suffering with them. My mum was going through an illness a couple of years ago. She had difficulties functioning normally, she was so week that some days she wasn´t able to stand from her bed and go to the kitchen to get herself a glass of water. Meanwhile, I had to attend university lectures, so I couldn´t be with her all the time. During those days I woke up every morning anxious about what was going to happen. When we woke up and my mum wasn´t feeling well, I would get caught up in fearful scenarios for that day. Not only I had to deal with taking care of her, but I had to take care of my worries, which wasn´t helping anyone. Instead of focusing my energy on supporting us both, I let the worries rob me of my clarity. Because I´ve experienced this first hand, I know how hard it is to stop pitying the person who is going through something difficult and also to stop pitying yourself, as well, for having to experience it with them. The only thing that helped me was that I continued with my normal routine and I had to find again the things that energized me and that brought me joy. This for me looked like working out in the morning before anyone else would get up, meditating and working at my part-time job where I taught yoga to kids in a kindergarten. During those moments I was able to stop thinking about my mum´s illness and I was able to take control of my life as well. It helped me to be more centered and happy when I was spending my time with her, which in turn helped her to feel better. There is nothing more healing than a presence of a person who is at peace under all circumstances and who believes in your well-being.
You can never get miserable enough to help someone else in their misery.
It´s considered “normal” to think that if someone you love is suffering you should suffer with them and if you don´t, you probably don´t love them enough. I tried it many times and my suffering never helped anyone at all. Imagine when you are sick and you have a temperature. Do you need someone to make you a tea, take you to see a doctor and say that everything is going to be alright? Or do you need someone who is fearful and names at least four examples of acquaintances from work who ended up in a hospital and nearly died because they´ve caught a dangerous viral disease? When the situation is worse and you know a prescription pill won´t solve it, it will take all the courage you can gather to not become overwhelmed by fear. However, maintaining a peace of mind and a loving heart is the only solution to any crisis. We´ll never get miserable enough to help someone else in their misery. We can only be at our best and then uplift others from that place. I know that the best help I received in my life was when someone saw through my suffering, fear and debilitating thoughts and showed me who I really was. They believed in me even when I didn´t have the power to do so. This is the only kind of help we can give – to see someone in all their glory when they´ve just hit the rock bottom.
Three kinds of business
I love The Work of Byron Katie and three kinds of business she says there are: mine, yours and God´s. Much of our stress comes from mentally living in some other business than our own. If I´m mentally in your business who is taking care of mine? It´s not surprising that I feel sad and empty when I´m thinking about someone else´s life. In the moment I´m mentally living your life, there is no one there to live mine. When you are worried about floods, weather or when you will die, you´re in God´s business. The result is a feeling of loneliness because you´ve just separated from yourself. There is no one home to take care of you. You know how they say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions? I think of it every time I think I know what´s the best for someone else. Even if it´s in the name of love. You simply can´t know what´s the best for others. If I look back at my life, I won´t take any of the hardship away, because they´ve helped me to become who I am. Every challenge was there to remind me something I forgot about myself.
So, next time you are worried, ask yourself: Who´s business am I in?