When I was single, I heard this all the time: “You have to love yourself before you can love someone else.” And after I fell in love with someone else, I started hearing this all the time: “The person you love can’t make you happy; only you can make you happy.” What is it about love and happiness that make them so interconnected? Is one at the root of the other?
The Rumor: You have to love yourself to be happy
“Every year, 259 million people Google the word ‘happiness,’ and that number has doubled since 2004,” says Will Bowen, founder of A Complaint Free World and author of Happy This Year! “Clearly, people are searching for happiness outside of themselves.” That’s right: Experts say happiness may start with yourself — but if you want true happiness, it’s much more about making connections with others.
The Verdict: You have to focus on your life’s purpose to be happy
We asked a variety of experts to dish on the link between loving yourself, loving others and happiness, and uncovered four keys to finding joy:
1. Recognize that it’s not about you. Focusing on yourself isn’t actually all that loving. “Loving yourself is important, but it’s not the basis of happiness,” says Tai Sheridan, Ph.D., Zen priest and author of Secrets of True Happiness. “The preoccupation with learning to love ourselves, fixing our neurosis and becoming an actualized person can often be just another way of being self-centered. The hardest thing to learn is to stop being so self-concerned, and to learn to love and be kind to others, and to take care of our own backyard and the larger world. In finding compassion for everyone, we become happy without trying. When you stay close to the miracle of being alive, gratitude, wonder and compassion become the soil of true happiness.”
2. Enjoy what you already have. Another common happiness source centers on stuff and status. Better stuff, higher status. But neither one works. “Happiness isn’t found in getting, achieving or becoming what we want,” says Bowen. “It’s found in enjoying and savoring what we have. Sadly, whether we admit or not, most people still believe the myth that more money equals more happiness. George Carlin put it perfectly: ‘Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.’”
3. Find somebody to love. What you really need are close relationships. “The clearest of all conclusions drawn by researchers into emotional well-being is that our happiness is determined more by our relationships with other people than by any other single factor,” says Lynda Wallace, author of A Short Course in Happiness: Practical Steps to a Happier Life. “The happiest people have good, trusting relationships at the center of their lives.” Wallace says that any combination of friends and family will work, but one thing matters most: “We [must] have people we know we can rely on for love and understanding, and who rely on us in turn.”
4. Do nice things for people. What’s the fastest route to happiness? Doing good for others. “The Iroquois Indians call this the ‘benevolent desire of the soul,’” says Bowen. “We think that having other people do something nice for us will make us happier. Nice though this is, it’s a feeling that is short-lived. When we do something nice for someone else, it sends a ripple of joy and satisfaction through our souls that lasts a long time. Consider that number one, everyone, at some time, needs some help. And number two, we feel happy when we help others. It’s a perfect system, really. And that should make us all happy.”