Dear Andrew W.K.,
I tried to throw myself a birthday party the other night. I thought it would be a fun way to lift my spirits after a very hard year for me. I invited my friends a month ahead of time, made preparations, bought a cake, set out snacks, etc. I felt I did everything right.
When the day came, all the people who said they would come never even showed up. I was alone in my house with all my bad, lonely thoughts. No one has apologized for missing my party and I’ve been ignored since. I feel as though life is pointless if I do not have people to share it with. I do not want to live, but I do not want to die. How can I find happiness enough for me within myself and not be bothered by how carelessly people treat me?
Party Of One
Dear Party Of One,
In an ideal world, we would all strive to be truly self-reliant. Being self-reliant isn’t solely about maintaining a sort of rugged individualism. Nor is it about being a loner cut off from the rest of society. Being self-reliant simply means that you no longer rely on other people for your happiness, worthiness, or any other essential feeling. It also means you no longer blame other people for your sadness, disappointment, or frustration. Self-reliance is about building a world inside yourself that is more beautiful and perfect than the outside world, one impervious to outside circumstance and the ups and downs of life.
As self-reliant individuals, we would no longer feel our emotional well-being tethered to the whims of the stock market. We would no longer base the quality of our day on who said a nice or not-nice thing to us. We would realize both happiness and sadness occur inside of us and solely because of us. We would realize that how we feel is a state of being that we alone are in charge of — and no person or event or object can “make us happy” or, likewise, “make us sad.” Those feelings are states of mind that we decide on. We are in control of our inner world, and we decide how to feel about what happens outside of it.
This state of mind is the only thing we can ever hope to have control over. Rather than putting our energy into trying to control other people and their behavior, or the ever-changing world around us, we should put our energy into trying to gain control over our own emotions and our own inner responses to the outer things we have no control over. This is easier said than done, but it is one of the noblest efforts we can make as we work to master this experience called “being alive.”
It can take an entire lifetime to realize and believe that you are the key to your own happiness or sadness. It takes an extraordinary amount of honesty to start taking complete and total responsibility for your feelings. There is a certain thrill and satisfaction in being able to look at other people for our own sense of self-worth. But being able to know — really know — that your own inner spirit is all you really need to be OK is like climbing Mount Everest for your soul.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t want other people in our lives — and that doesn’t mean we can’t experience joy or disappointment as a result of our dealings with the outside world. But we still strive to maintain a vigilant awareness that these things happening around us are not where happiness or sadness is found. Those good or bad feelings happen in us and not to us. Everything outside of our own inner self-reliant state of mind, both good and bad, is basically icing on the cake of life. They are interesting experiences that we decide to let affect us — or not. We can even decide to let down our self-reliant vigilance so we can have a less predictable and more emotionally turbulent experience of the world — which most of us have opted to do, myself included.
It’s OK to feel disappointed when people don’t show up to your birthday. It’s OK to feel sad when things don’t go as you hoped. But just realize that you are choosing to feel that because you care about it in this particular way. Your friends didn’t “make” you feel that way. It’s wonderful to think buying a new car “gives” you a great feeling of excitement and success. But know that the car isn’t “giving” you any feeling, nor is the buying of it — you are giving yourself that feeling because of the power you decided to give the car and the act of buying it. And you could feel that way without the car. Or feel sad and miserable while buying all the cars in the world.
Self-reliance is taking your power back — back from everyone and everything that seems to have the power to make you happy or sad. It’s time to give that sacred power only to yourself, to the spirit inside. And if you decide to share that power with someone or something else, just do it wisely and with full awareness that it is yours to give. Stay strong and always remember that you have a world of endless happiness and beauty inside you. And that you can always rely on.
[Editor’s note: Every week, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party.]
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 28, 2015
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