How to Make People Feel Good About Themselves – Free Ebook

We tend to operate with the view that the
best way to please people is not to bother

them too much. We keep many of our dilemmas
and confusions away from those we like, for

fear of irritating or inconveniencing them
and so spoiling the relationship. We may well

have a voice echoing in our minds from childhood:
‘Don’t bother your mother, can’t you

see she’s exhausted from her trip? Don’t
bother your father, he works hard for us and

he’s busy right now…’ There are powerful
reasons why we equate making others happy

with burdening them as little as possible.
But our analysis is missing a key detail of

human psychology: we like to be bothered.
Not at all time and over all things, nor at

the expense of our own critical needs, but
fundamentally, we have a powerful urge to

feel helpful. We need to be needed. All of
us suffer from a fear of superfluity, which

the requirements of others has a critical
capacity to appease. However nice presents

may be for our friends, the real gift we can
offer them is an insight into our problems.

We can pick this theme up in the realm of
work. The dominant societal story is that

we work strictly for ourselves: for our status
and our financial benefit. But in reality,

more puzzlingly but far more beautifully,
what really makes our work feel exciting and

meaningful is the power it gives us to help
other people. Work is at its most gratifying

when it affords us a feeling that we have,
over the course of the day, managed to appease

the suffering or increase the pleasure of
another person. There are so many stories

of being exhausted by the requests of others;
too few of the delight we experience when

we turn around someone else’s distress,
boredom or craving. We can’t ultimately

feel our valuable sides until we are called
upon to exercise them: we don’t have a sense

of our strength until someone needs us to
lift something; we can’t feel intelligent

until someone asks us to solve an issue; we
can’t feel wise until we’ve been brought

in to adjudicate a dispute. We rely on the
needs of others to remind us of what we’re

capable.
©Flickr/Didriks

What holds true in professional life applies
as much to personal experience. The best way

to charm and break the ice with a new person
we like the look of in a public place isn’t

to try to say something witty or soothing.
We should strive to bring them a question.

We should ask them whether we’re in the
right queue; whether they know when the post

office opens – or if they have any idea
how long a chicken this size might need in

an oven. With closer friends too, we should
dare to reveal our bemusements. We should

ask them if they could possibly spare a moment,
then solicit their views on what we might

do about our angry teenage child, how we should
cope with a sexless relationship or what they’d

advise us about a colleague who is prone to
panic. Our questions won’t be a burden,

they will show that we are ready to make ourselves
vulnerable in their eyes – and therefore

that we trust and think them wise. This isn’t
just a cynical strategy for ingratiating ourselves;

it isn’t Machiavellian or sly. We genuinely
all need help. We aren’t pretending to have

problems and making up a few just to flatter. We
are suffering inside, but simply generally

don’t dare to reveal the truth for fear
of driving people away. And yet we are staying

guarded out of an ideal of self-sufficiency
that isn’t either true to our needs or constructive

for the well being and esteem of others. So, we
should risk doing what we at heart have always

longed to do: to reveal some of the fear,
sadness and angst we genuinely feel to those

we care about. We will be helped in our pain,
we will remind others of their capacities

– and, if we are fortunate, we’ll set
a precedent that means that others will one

day bring a few of their problems to us in turn.

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