Who are you really making happy?
Sacrifice can be the most beautiful expression of the human spirit. Or it can be an ugly hate.
And where does your sacrifice sit on the spectrum?
The way I see it, as far as humanity is concerned, it doesn’t get any higher, more beautiful, or more divine than an individual sacrificing themselves for others.
It’s the sacrifices parents make for their children. Or a soldier makes for their mates. Or some random passer-by makes to save a child from being hit by a bus.
Despite everything we’ve been told about our ‘selfish nature’, we all know that a spirit of sacrifice lives within us, and we can relate when we hear stories of this spirit rising above someone’s our instinct for self-preservation.
It’s a beautiful thing.
But sacrifice can become a habit. It has an addictive quality.
And so I often see parents who are continually sacrificing their happiness for their family, for example, without first checking whether the sacrifice needs to be made.
Sacrifice becomes a habit – it becomes ingrained – and so it becomes the first response that people go to.
“Well, someone’s got to stay home and look after the kids. Someone’s got to stay back late and finish the report. Someone’s got to shout the drinks for Julie’s birthday.
May as well be me.”
In this way, we become like spiritual body-builders.
Lifting weights is hard, painful work. But eventually, body-builders get addicted to the burn. They come to love it.
And so when we make a sacrifice for others, we get a similar burn – the familiar feeling of missing out or shouldering the burden.
That feeling gives us a pleasant tickle – partly because it’s familiar and we like familiar things, but also because it gives us an excuse to give ourselves a rare pat on the back.
“See, you’re not so selfish after all. You’re a good boy.”
And so with an automated cue and response, the dopamine hit, the reinforcement, we have all the ingredients of a habit.
… a habit like smoking or chewing your nails.
It’s at this point that sacrifice gets ugly.
When we are in the space of evaluating our needs against others and elevating the other, we are in the beautiful spirit of sacrifice.
But when we are just blindly sacrificing our own happiness, regardless of the context, then we are in the snare of habit.
When we are sacrificing our needs, our wants, our desires, without being asked or it even being necessary, then we are making ourselves a martyr for nothing but our routines.
And eventually, like smoking, destructive habits take their toll.
If you’re not going to defend your natural right to be happy, then who will?
And if you’re continually failing yourself, won’t you eventually come to resent yourself? Do you really need to add self-hate into the mix?
Because the way I see, the situations where someone’s happiness must come at the expense of someone else’s, are actually incredibly rare.
Even in parenthood – the great theatre of service – we can find ourselves making sacrifices of ourselves way more than is actually necessary.
The antidote is awareness. It’s about stopping and checking in with your attitudes to sacrifice. It’s about asking yourself, why aren’t you pursuing your own happiness with all the vigour and energy you can muster?
It’s about taking stock, and seeing whether the people around you need you to be falling on your sword on a daily basis, or whether you’ve just collectively created a habit.
Sacrifice is a beautiful thing. But it needs to be kept fresh.
Keep it in the moment.
You don’t need stale and destructive habits in your life.