Want to be happier? Depend on yourself more.
Every once in a while I come across a book that blows me away and completely shifts my point of view. One such book is Beyond Success and Failure: Ways to Self-Reliance and Maturity.
The book discusses problems that are at the root of a lot of unhappiness in our daily lives and offers solutions for overcoming these problems.
What I find particularly interesting is how much of the book’s information was foreign to me even though I’ve read a lot of self-help books over the past couple of decades. The book was originally published in 1966 and appears to be another example of modern culture forgetting the wisdom our grandparents once possessed.
What follows are valuable lessons from the book and a few observations I’ve made. Note that in addition to this article I’ve posted lots of valuable quotes from the book.
The helpless child
We’re born helpless and require adults to take care of us when we’re children. In theory, as time progresses we’re able to do more and more for ourselves until we leave the nest a fully independent adult.
However, a problem arises when we don’t outgrow childhood dependencies and continue to mentally and emotionally rely on others rather than on ourselves. Our dependencies can transition from parents to others or even external circumstances in the form of wishful thinking.
This is incredibly problematic and prevents us from living up to our full potential.
Adults with child-like mentalities
Several generations ago, people were much more self-reliant. It’s in our DNA. We couldn’t have survived as a species if we constantly required outside entities to take care of us when we’re adults.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of us (myself included) hold onto old mental habits we picked up as children. These habits cause emotional dependencies and this dependence is the main cause of long term discontentment and daily stress.
Causes and symptoms
What are the causes and symptoms of dependence?
- Most worries, frustrations, irritations, etc. are due to the fact that we are attempting to ‘lean’ on other people for our physical and emotional stability. We try to virtually substitute others for our parents since we never learned to become fully reliant on ourselves.
- This utter dependence on outside entities causes us to constantly fluctuate between highs and lows depending on circumstances or if people are nice to us or not.
- Wishful thinking is a form of dependence — this is just a latent remnant when you really were helpless. When you were a child, ‘wishing’ was a viable strategy since you had little control yourself. All wishful thinking does now is encourage worry and dependence on things outside of your control.
- Manipulation of others is something we learned a long time ago and served as a valuable tool — we would cry or whine etc… and our parents would do things to satisfy our needs and wants. This was required at the time but is unnecessary and even destructive when taken into adulthood since it encourages a dependence on entities outside our control.
- The eternal childhood of today’s adults is largely behind the wave of unhappiness that has swept western societies. Rather than knowing that one can rely on oneself, one is in constant doubt, always looking for the next person or circumstance to play the rescuer.
- Traditionally adults have been producers and children consumers simply because children cannot provide for themselves. Today’s over the top abundant, consumer society pushes us all into the direction of children, always wanting to consume more of everything rather than produce for ourselves.
- Comparing ourselves to others and holding ourselves either higher or lower than another is a form of dependence. Comparison is your ego wanting to receive external validation.
- The submission to and elevation of an authority figure is a sign of a child-like mentality. Viewing someone as “better than you” allows you to abdicate your own responsibility, much as a child does with a parent.
Become more self-reliant
The major goal at increasing your contentment with life is to become more self-reliant. Note that taking the advice of the book can be hard. Damn hard. Spending years, maybe decades having these childlike dependencies makes them deeply embedded in your psyche and hard to get rid of. But it’s doable and it does get better with time as you work on removing your old child-like habits.
- KNOW that you have an inner strength and the reason you’ve been unhappy is that you’ve been clinging onto old habits that cause you to become dependent on outside forces.
- Work on doing as much for yourself as possible.
- Focus on reality, not wishful thinking. If you find yourself thinking ‘oh I wish it were like this’ or complaining about something, stop it. Instead know that you can handle the current situation no matter the reality of it. Wishful thinking is a mental shortcut children have developed to help them deal with their state of helplessness. Retaining this habit into adulthood can be devastating.
- When someone upsets you realize that that is a form of your dependence on your own parents. You are somehow putting your emotional state in the hands of others — many times others who don’t have your best interests at heart. When you were a child this was fine and actually required simply because of your helplessness. Knowing you can rely on yourself eliminates this need to lean on others.
- Hold yourself as an equal to others — neither higher nor lower. Comparisons just feed the ego which will do nothing but bring you misery. Realize comparisons are just a way you avoid relying on yourself for your own contentment because you don’t fully trust that you’re good enough to stand by yourself.
- Loneliness and Aloneness are different things all-together. Loneliness is the helpless child crying for a parent, requiring outsiders to provide structure. Aloneness is contentment with being alone and knowing that you can rely on yourself to meet your own needs.
- Be much more of a producer than a consumer. Take the extra step at work. Own it. Take pride in your work. Start a side business. Don’t do things just for the money. Take up the hobby you’ve always been too lazy to do because there wasn’t something externally prodding you.
The net result of all of this is that our suffering is in large part caused by our holding onto a child’s mentality when we are living in an adult body with adult responsibilities. Slowly learn to cut off your physical and emotional dependence on others and push that dependence firmly onto yourself — where it belongs.
You’re life will VASTLY improve.
Finally, I highly recommend you read the book yourself because I’ve only scratched the surface of the wisdom it contains.