What is the best thing in the world? The very best thing? It seems that not very many people know.
We live in a world where independence is almost an obsession. Young people today want to avoid being dependent on anyone. They want to keep their options open and not let anything tie them down.
But independence is overrated.
In fact, when independence is defined as needing no one and avoiding responsibility for others, it is downright lonely — one of the worst places that a person can be.
It turns out that what we ought to be seeking is interdependence — needing others as they need us, depending on one another, taking responsibility for each other. That's where the joy is.
Sometimes in our speeches or seminars, we ask married individuals an interesting question: “Whose happiness do you think you have more control over, your spouse's or your own?” When they really think about it, most conclude that they have more influence over the happiness of their partner than they do over their own happiness.
Someone who is always seeking his own happiness seldom finds it. But someone who is genuinely trying to make his or her spouse happy usually succeeds.
Seeking your own happiness can turn into something resembling narcissism. Seeking your spouse's happiness can turn into a great marriage.
And the married state, when it is approached this way, is the most natural and joyful lifestyle that has ever been discovered.
Ben Franklin put it this way: “A single man ... resembles the odd half of a pair of scissors.”
Of course, there are single people who are happy, who enjoy a full life and who contribute much to others. Yet most Americans who never have been married say they would like to be at some point in their lives, according to the Pew Research Center. We are wired for interdependence. We instinctively want to be with someone and take care of someone. We are made to love.
And we who are married ought to do our best to appreciate it more. The fact is that having someone you love more than yourself is an incalculable blessing. It changes how we think. It changes how we act. It changes who we are.
Devoting yourself to the happiness of other people is a great and wonderful thing, but devoting yourself to the happiness of one other person — the one you love most — may be the single greatest determining factor in most every aspect of your life, from your day-to-day happiness to the development of your character, and from where and how you live to how long you live.
And, of course, it will have the same determining influence on the one you love.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “See how the masses of men worry themselves into nameless graves, while here and there a great unselfish soul forgets himself into immortality.”
The best way, and the simplest way, to forget yourself is by devoting yourself to the happiness of your spouse.
And the great secret is that in our devotion to spouse and our forgetting of self, the happiness we were not seeking floods into our own lives.