The idea that another person makes you happy is not healthy. The problem is not with you being happy; it’s just as bad if you say that someone else makes you unhappy, or excited, or nervous. Nor is the problem with the other person; everyone needs contact with others. The problem is in the word “make.” It seems so innocuous. If you’ve met someone new and tell your friends “This person makes me so happy!” they know exactly what you mean. But either you’re telling them something that’s not true, or you’re telling them the truth and revealing a worrying psychological problem.
This is about your locus of control. Locus is a Latin word meaning “place;” it’s the origin of the word “local.” The locus of control is simply the place where control happens. This concept was developed in the mid-20th century by *Julian Rotter and has become an accepted part of psychological theory. Everyone has a locus of control, though it can vary from person to person and over time. The simplest way to understand it is to say who you feel is in control of your life. You? Your partner? Your children? Your boss? The Government? If you feel in charge of your own mind and your choices, then you have an internal locus of control. If you feel like you’re at the mercy of outside forces, you have an external locus of control.
“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.” Don Miguel Ruiz
Your perception is what’s important here — it’s about how you feel. If you have a boss who will fire you for leaving work early, you might spend your working day frustrated: you really want to take the afternoon off, but your boss won’t let you. Alternatively, you might decide that while it would be lovely to spend a sunny afternoon outside instead of in the office, you’ll choose to keep your job rather than to enjoy the outdoors. The situation isn’t different, but your perception is.
Why is your locus of control important? Research suggests that an internal locus of control is linked to happiness and creativity, and it’s also an important part of healthy relationships. Think again about the statement that the person you’ve recently started dating is making you happy. Where’s the locus of control? Not in you, but in the other person. They’re the one who’s making you happy; presumably if they leave you or cheat on you, they’ll also make you unhappy.
It’s important to remember that there’s nothing wrong with feeling happy, or inappropriate about feeling unhappy if circumstances change. But who’s in control of your feelings? Surely it must be you. Instead of exclaiming, “They make me so happy!” how about saying, “I feel so happy when I’m with them!” It doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but it puts your locus of control right back where it should be, which is inside you.
Aside from phrasing things differently, will this make any difference to your life? Yes, potentially a life-changing difference. *Researchers looked at a group of firefighters and found that those with an external locus of control were more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder. If your new partner is in charge of your happiness, what happens if he or she turns out to be controlling or abusive? What about when the relationship ends? Can you be happy by yourself, or will you need to find someone else to “make you happy” again?
You can improve your life if you get into the habit of talking and thinking in a way that internalizes your locus of control. Rather than feeling dependent on someone else to make you happy, you’re the one who’s in charge of your happiness. When times are hard, you’re not compelled to be stressed and frustrated; you can make your own choices. There’s nothing wrong with being happy around another person, but only you are in charge of how you feel.