Just because we WANT approval doesn’t mean it’s necessary for our happiness
Respect is love in plain clothes (Frankie Byrne)
Besides being ‘love in plain clothes,’ respect is a gift most people hunger for. Songstress and diva Madonna confesses: “I became an overachiever to get approval from the world.” Unlike Madonna, however, most people don’t admit they desperately yearn for approval, appreciation, recognition, and respect. If I were to claim people are starving for recognition, would I be overstating the case? American psychologist William James (1842 ~ 1910) didn’t think so, for he wrote, “The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”
Take another look at what William James wrote. He taught that we CRAVE approval; he didn’t say we NEED it. This is an important distinction, for just because we WANT approval doesn’t mean it’s necessary for our happiness. True, some psychologists teach that we NEED approval, but the problem is they are confusing the needs of a child with that of an adult. When I was an infant, I needed diapers, but as an adult I don’t need them any more (okay, that may be in bad example, for in a few more years, I may be needing them again).
Joking aside, an infant’s need for approval is genuine. After all, we have all read about cases in which infants have been disposed of in garbage containers by their confused and desperate mothers. Had enough time passed for the parent and child to bond, throwing the baby into the garbage would have been unthinkable. The need for approval doesn’t end with infants. For young children also need approval from their parents to develop confidence and feelings of self-worth, without which they’ll be unable to cope in the world as adults.
Mature adults are independent and do not need the approval of others. How many brilliant thinkers, visionary leaders, imaginative inventors, and creative artists were laughed at and scorned by the then unappreciative masses? Fortunately for the world, those who were ahead of their time did not let the disparaging remarks of others stop them. If the world is to benefit by our contributions, no matter how small they may be, we must follow the examples of those brave souls who did what they thought was right with no regard to the criticism they received.
When you look for approval from others, you lose the freedom to be yourself. The Latin Poet Claudius Claudianus, who wrote nearly 1600 years ago, expressed the same idea, “The person who seeks all their applause from outside has their happiness in another’s keeping.” Even more to the point was The Tao Te Ching, which was written in China about 2400 years ago. In it, it says, “Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.”
Yet, many people still believe they NEED the approval of others for their happiness. Their minds are full of destructive thoughts such as: “I CAN’T STAND IT when people disrespect me. I HAVE TO be appreciated by others because if I am not, that means I am WORTHLESS. I MUST get the recognition I deserve from others.” As adults, we are capable of rational and critical thinking, and we need to use it to dispute and challenge any ideas that threaten our happiness.
Let’s begin by using critical thinking to analyze the above negative thoughts. “I CAN’T STAND IT when people disrespect me” really means “I AM UNHAPPY when people disrespect me.” Who says you can’t stand to be disrespected? Who says you CAN’T LIVE without approval, CAN’T STAND being rejected, HATE to be ignored, and MUST get attention? You do! You make your own rules for life. But why would you want to make rules that work against you? Don’t you realize it’s impossible to be appreciated by everyone? Isn’t it impossible to go through life without being disrespected by someone? So, if you believe that you MUST be appreciated to be happy, you automatically condemn yourself to unhappiness! Does that make sense? Is that rational? The lesson, then, is don’t demand approval. Don’t expect it. Simply prefer it. We don’t need approval from EVERYONE any more than we need an unlimited amount of food. Obviously, we need SOME food for survival and happiness, and so it is with approval.
Besides, what is this nonsense about not being able to stand it? What exactly will happen if someone disrespects you? Will you melt? Change into a pillar of salt? Explode into a thousand pieces? No, you will simply fume. Why will you get angry? Because you made it your rule. So, change the stupid (irrational) rule. Change it to: I not only CAN but WILL tolerate disrespect and criticism from others because my happiness is more important than their weaknesses. Aren’t others rude to you because they feel threatened by you, feel insecure, lack confidence, or are jealous or envious? Why get upset about THEIR weaknesses?
Let’s anayze the second negative thought, “I HAVE TO be appreciated by others because if I am not, that means I am WORTHLESS.” The first part of this thought means, “I will be UNHAPPY unless I am appreciated.” That’s just a stupid (irrational) rule, so change it for the reasons already given. The part about being WORTHLESS is equally irrational. Will the value of the Mona Lisa decline if you do not appreciate it? Of course not! Why will your value disappear just because someone does not appreciate it? The answer, obviously, is it will not fade or disappear, but remain intact. So, give up that silly notion.
Now, let’s look at the third, and final example of a negative thought: “I MUST get the recognition I deserve from others.” The first part is based on an irrational rule (“I MUST”), so change the rule. As for the rest of the negative thought, what’s the problem about getting the recognition you deserve? I always get the recognition I deserve. I get it from myself. Why would I need someone else to tell me what I already know? Don’t YOU know when you do something worthwhile? Isn’t that enough recognition? Admittedly, it’s always NICE to be recognized by others, but it isn’t NECESSARY. So, don’t make your happiness contingent on the whims of others. As long as we strive to become a VALUABLE person instead of a RICH person, we will receive all the self-approval we hope for.
It is helpful to remember how much others want to be accepted and appreciated. Why? Because armed with that knowledge, we can make their lives more pleasant by treating them with respect. Not because we are obligated to do so, but because we want to do so. For like St. Francis de Sales (1567 ~ 1622), we will come to realize that, “God is present everywhere, and every person is his work.” So, you see, when we become bearers of gifts and offer our approval to everyone we meet, we become more than kind; we become Godlike. A worthy ambition, don’t you agree?