And so, people who feel you outshine them will dislike you, because they don’t like themselves in comparison to you. You make them feel inadequate simply through your brightness. Wow. This is a conclusion I really needed to come to.

About a year ago to the day, an acquaintance said (drunkenly) to my face that I should be more “grumpy” and less happy to fit in/be accepted in her group. She actually explicitly said that the way I was made them feel worse about how miserable they were.

I never quite put two and two together. I did always feel that people like you if they like themselves in your presence, but I always thought that was something I could influence. It’s why I gave so many (honest) compliments. Asked people about their day. Showed interest and intrigue.

I thought that this way, even if someone initially felt bad about themselves, they’d feel good around me, because I made them feel appreciated and heard. I was so confused when this didn’t happen.

But now I get it – you can’t influence the way someone feels about themselves, without the spark being within them first. Just as you can’t change any other part of someone if they don’t have their own drive, first (e.g. quitting smoking, losing weight, studying harder).

So actually, by being so kind and genuine and curious, I instead highlighted the difference between my attitude and hers. I further entrenched the way she felt about herself, which was bad.

The only way I could have got her to like me, really, is probably to do exactly as she suggested, and be more grumpy, dim my light. That way, she’d feel better about being a grump herself. She’d like who she was around me, because I would affirm her identity and the validity of her mood. Or at least, she’d hate who she was less.

So that’s how I realised I needed to stop focusing on pleasing people, and instead focus on bringing people happiness. For the longest time I thought these were the same thing, but there’s a very important difference.

Because with some people, the only way to please them is to affirm their own misery, and that’s certainly not part of my mission. Instead, I set out to bring joy to people’s lives – they can take it or leave it. If they are ready and open to accept, it’s there for them. But if they’re not, I refuse to play mental and emotional gymnastics to please them in a way that only stews more discontent when it comes down to it.

Full-time freelance writer/copywriter. I write about how I got here, and how to live a good life with less pressure and more meaning.