Be Responsible for What You Feel

2.) Take Ownership of Your Emotions

how to be happy

If you're going to work on changing how you feel, it would be good to know who’s in charge of your emotions. It’s a fairly common belief that others can make you feel bad. “She made me angry.” “He upset her.” “He really pissed the boss off this time.”

You cannot, in any way, ever,
make someone feel an emotion.

When I have talked to people about this idea, they inevitably bring up the time when someone had upset them or made them angry. They say to me, “they caused my anger for if they had not been there, and said what they did, I would not have been angry.” I can understand cause and effect in the physical world. I push the pencil and it rolls. I drop a glass and it shatters. But cause and effect don’t translate very well into the emotional world.

When someone says something to you, the words aren’t going directly into your brain and switching on your "I'm upset" lever. How can words, sent out as sound waves and picked up by your ears then translate into an emotional response? Is there nothing between those sound waves and your response? And how can you explain people having a different reaction to the same event?

I think people have difficulty understand this concept of responsibility for their emotions because they make no distinction between influence and control.

Influence & Control

Influence has the potential to impact. It's indirect. Control has a direct effect on a result. Let’s look at one example and see how influence and control play out.

Terry is Mark’s wife. They’re having some financial difficulties and make an agreement to hold off on major purchases until they’re out of debt. One day while shopping, Terry sees a watch she loves and purchases it for $350.00. When Mark sees the credit card bill, he explodes in anger. “What the hell, Terry?!?, he screams, “we made an agreement!”

What caused Mark’s anger? Was it their financial situation? The evil credit card company? Terry’s purchase? The watch? All of the above? In this particular case, none of them. Mark believed a “good husband” provides well for his family. When the bill for the watch came due, he almost instantly felt bad about himself for not being able to afford such things for her. His belief about what it means to be a good husband gave his wife’s action a particular meaning, i.e.: he's not a good husband because he can't afford the watch. He looks for the cause of his feeling inadequate and sees Terry. He becomes angry at her for making him feel this way.

Terry, their financial situation, the credit card bill, were all influences on Mark’s belief about what it means to be a good husband. This is worth repeating. People and circumstances can have INFLUENCES on our beliefs. (The preverbal "He pushed my button.") But you have direct CONTROL over what you believe. Who else could control Mark’s beliefs, but Mark?

Let’s change Mark’s beliefs about what it means to be a good husband and see what happens. Mark no longer believes he has to provide well for his wife to think of himself as a good husband. (He has a list of other things, but providing well isn't one of them.) They’re in the same situation, struggling financially, and Terry has purchased the expensive watch. Mark sees the bill.

He doesn’t become angry because he doesn’t question his value as a husband, but he is curious what happened since he and Terry had agreed to hold off on major purchases. He asks Terry about the bill. As it turns out, Terry had been feeling the desire for some type of luxury in her life. She’s been scrimping and saving for months and wanted to treat herself. She agrees she’s broken their agreement, apologizes and they discuss her feeling deprived. They decide that they will treat themselves to one nice dinner out a month to celebrate their financial restraint.

Mark changed his belief and by changing the belief, he changed his emotional response. Terry and her purchase were only influences on Mark. Those influences were powerless when the belief was changed.

The good news is no one can make you feel bad.
The really good news is you cannot make anyone else bad.

And the really, REALLY great news is you can make yourself happy by adjusting the beliefs that cause your misery.

Claim your beliefs, feelings and actions as your own. Take back the reins of ownership, responsibility, and consequential control that come with ownership. Take that outstretched finger you’ve been pointing at everyone else, and turn it back towards yourself. Not in blame, guilt or judgment, but for answers and growth.

on to happiness power tool #3...


If your happiness depends on what somebody else does, I guess you do have a problem.

- Richard Bach

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

- Victor Frankl

Nobody can hurt me without my permission.

- Mahatma Gandhi