…Does Not Necessarily Make Us Happy
Have you ever felt envy when you find out about your neighbour buying a new sports car? Or anger when you saw, your best friend was leaving with his family for an exotic vacation, while you are working hard to pay your bills? An old proverb says: “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” In my opinion, a real friend is one who can enjoy our happiness. It is noble to help people in need, especially when it does not involve physical effort, financial cost, or legal implications. Helping others allows us to feel important and needed. When we help someone, we also build our self-esteem and create an image of ourselves as a “helpful person.”
Politicians, businessmen, and celebrities like to share photos showing them surrounded by children, or “leak” information about the amounts they donate to charities. Helping people in need is undoubtedly a virtue, but it is not a value in itself. The chance that a homeless person or an orphaned child might threaten our wellbeing or our social or economic position is very limited. On the other hand, helping those who are better off may be seen as an attempt to get access to them and thereby to get some advantage for ourselves.
In psychology, there is a concept of cognitive dissonance. It describes a sense of discomfort that we experience when the outcomes of our actions – or the way in which we see ourselves – are contradicted by the way other people perceive us. Most people like to think about themselves positively, and they want the external world to reinforce that self-image. In fact, our creation of self-image and the way we present ourselves to the external world is one of the most revealing human traits.
“ THERE IS NO EASY TASK TO BEHAVE WITH HUMILITY – OR TO ACCEPT NEGATIVE RESPONSES FROM OTHER PEOPLE”
We usually do this by using external signs such as body language, the way we dress, our gestures, or changes in our tone of voice. People are rarely forthcoming about their problems and struggles on Facebook, whereas we are very willing to share information about our successes and about the things that give us pleasure.
Public Relations specialists know that the art of image creation can be learned, but what if the new image we are creating is not congruent with our self-image? How do we reduce cognitive dissonance? Actually, constructive thinking can also be learned, but it requires time, effort, and determination. In turn, what we focus on will become more important to us, expanding and becoming more accessible. When we are thinking about our Self and our experiences, positively – we are subconsciously creating the ground in which these positive thoughts and impressions, will grow even stronger.
On the other hand, feelings of anger, hatred, or envy will more likely form waves of negative experiences, feelings, and reactions. Thus, if you want to think about yourself as a helpful person, behaving in a useful way is not enough. This is because there is a connection between the way we think about ourselves and our actions in the external world. What this means is that our ability to actually perform meaningful or genuine acts of kindness also depends on the way in which we regard ourselves. It is when we can unconditionally love and accept ourselves as we are with all our various strengths and weaknesses that we are able to act genuinely without self-doubt or concern about our “real” motivation.
“Love your neighbour as you love yourself” – do not judge, do not criticize, do not compare. We can see today how difficult this seemingly simple command is. There is no easy task to behave with humility – or to accept negative responses from other people, especially when we do not receive the gratitude we were expecting. The world is not a fair or safe place. When trying to change the world, we must begin by recognizing that we are doomed to some degree of failure. This failure is because neither the weather nor the opinion of other people can easily be changed.
On the other hand, we can change ourselves and the way we think and see the world. In a few years, today’s children and youth will become leaders, parents, and educators. The sooner we can teach young people to think about themselves more positively, the more it will help them to control their feelings and behaviour. The more likely they will be able to achieve better results. Remember, if we can help others unconditionally, the more likely we are to build a stronger and safer society. This would be based on mutual respect and a sense of responsibility.
IdealMe has created a program to help youth develop a better understanding of themselves and especially their strengths and weaknesses. We also help to improve their emotional and social interactions with peers, teachers, and family. The program provides training for young people to practice recognizing and regulating their feelings and constructively solve problems. It also helps to improve their overall self-esteem and resiliency. IdealMe is a proactive way for parents and educators to help youth address the many challenges that are awaiting them in the world. These challenges have become increasingly complex and often increasingly harsh.
Ewa J. Antczak
School psychologist, founder and creator of IdealMe. She coaches youth, parents and educators to focus their efforts on the development of each child’s inner core strength. She provides the child with the tools they need to maintain self-confidence. The goal is to teach youth that they must strive to surpass themselves – rather than others.