It’s not a bad thing to want to put smiles on people’s faces, but you have to realize that it just isn’t always possible. Some people take it to the extreme in that it defines their behaviour and how they see themselves. We call them “people pleasers,” and their constant need to make other people happy becomes a tremendous source of stress in their lives, particularly when they’re unable to.
We all have needs, both physical and emotional. And while it’s certainly commendable when people look out for the needs of others, it’s also necessary that you first look out for your own needs.
On planes before takeoff, flight attendants instruct passengers on what to do in case of emergency when the air masks are deployed due to a drop in cabin pressure. For parents with young children, their instinct is to first make sure the oxygen masks are fitted properly on their children’s faces, then take care of their own. But the flight attendants recommend the opposite. Why? Because the person with the greatest ability to help others needs to be taken care of first.
So say you’re sitting on a plane with your two children, the masks deploy and you fix one on one of your children’s faces. Before you can get to the second, lack of oxygen leaves you too disoriented to help that child or yourself, and the first child may not be old enough to understand what to do or what needs to be done for you and their sibling. But if you make sure you’re breathing oxygen, you’ll be able to get both your children’s masks on, and you’ll all be taken care of.
People pleasers tend to give away more than they can afford to, which reduces the amount of people pleasing they can do in the long run. In the short run, the stress of not being able to make everyone happy and not being able to cater to their own needs ends up crushing people pleasers under stress.
But before you can stop being such a people pleaser to alleviate the stress that goes along with it, you need to understand why you’re a people pleaser. Typically, it’s because you feel like you can’t take care of yourself or others aren’t doing enough to take care of you. You compensate for you not getting what you need by trying to make sure everyone else does. You replace the confidence with which you should view yourself with the way the people you help view you.
You become more dependent on the people you help than they are on you, and dependence on anyone or anything is never good.
So what should you do?
Like the flight attendants advise, see to your own needs first before you start worrying about seeing to the needs of others. That means identifying what makes you happy. What do you need to be physically happy (e.g. food, house, income etc) and what do you need to be emotionally happy (e.g. acceptance, love, respect etc)? Once you know what you need, what do you have to do to ensure those needs are taken care of?
Once you know what you need, make sure you get it. It’s not that you can’t help other people along the way, but you can’t allow your desire to please others keep you from pleasing yourself. As stressful as it can be feeling like you can’t make everyone happy, the stress that is twice as powerful that’s weighing on your nerves comes from you not getting what you need.
Like Bill Cosby said: “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”