How to make someone happy
November 9, 2005 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to make someone happy, if they're generally not most of the time?

I've been with my SO for about 8 years. Marriage is not on the horizon due to several factors.... but that's another story. He recently had a birthday and said there was nothing that he wanted from me, gift-wise. More than that, he asked me what the point was of spending all that money anyway. And, aren't we old enough to be 'over' getting gifts from one another? (He's mid-50s to my late 40s). My reply was that I hope to never be 'over' receiving gifts.

Beyond this he's already stressing / poo-pooing the upcoming holidays (Buncha hype, dontcha know). I love birthdays; both the giving and receiving aspects. I love the glitz and glitter of Christmas (altho' it has the potential to be a very sad time for me) and I'd love to try and turn his attitude around before I tell him I'll just talk to him in January when all the "hype" is over.

What can do I do make him understand that there's more to birthdays and holidays than just 'hype'? I'd really love to see him enjoy these times, but sometimes there's just no talking to him.

posted by SoftSummerBreeze to Human Relations (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can't. And I don't know that you should try. Not everyone enjoys the holidays, maybe you can best help him enjoy them by making them as stress-free as possible, allow him to opt out of things if he wants to within reason. There should be some compromise on his part, but it should be in the form of "I promise not to be a Scrooge on Christmas Day" and "I respect that your birthday matters to you, so I will remember to get you a present and take you out for dinner", and NOT "I promise to pretend that I like holidays".
posted by biscotti at 3:06 PM on November 9, 2005

As far as the birthday: Make him something.

A girl I dated once put together this "book" out of construction paper, a cheap binder, and glue sticks. She put in pictures of us, ticket stubs she had saved from places I took her, etc...

Each "chapter" in the book was something she loved about me. (i.e. 1. Your humor, 2. Your kisses, 3. The places you take me)...

I've never been so touched in my life as when I received that gift.

As far as making someone happy when they're not ... no. There really isn't a way to just make someone happy. Unfortunately, a concept I've coined when talking to my friends, called "emotional inertia", is really strong. If you're used to being down, grumpy, depressed - you tend to stay that way even when you have the option of easily being happy by simply shifting perspective, appreciating what you have, etc...

The only person who can change that is your SO.

You can help by showing him what there is to love about life. Drag him out on a fun road trip or to try something new, do things that remind him why life can be beautiful... but do not expect overnight change.

In the end, he's responsible for his happiness, and is the only one who can realize it. I wish the best for you both.
posted by twiggy at 3:08 PM on November 9, 2005

I know exactly where your SO is coming from. He's content to be miserable, so leave him alone. Want to get him a present? Get him a good book. Whatever you do, don't try to "cheer him up."
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:14 PM on November 9, 2005

You don't say whether this is a new thing or if it's been his standard behavior for the past eight years. If it's new, I might be more worried than if it were just the same thing he's been saying every year.

In any event, there really is nothing you can do to "make" your partner see, feel, or think what you would like him to. All you can do is decide how you will respond to the way he is. One response might be to encourage him to get some counseling, if there's a possibility that clinical depression is rearing its head all of a sudden. Another response would to, as you said, see him in January and just enjoy the holidays yourself.

Whatever happens, make sure he knows you care deeply for him, as you clearly do. Does he have any family or close friends who might be able to clue you in about why he's so down about holidays and birthdays?
posted by Gator at 3:15 PM on November 9, 2005

Ditto the other two posters: you can't change him and the way he feels about things. My hub hates cards, flowers and engagement rings; he thinks they're "false sentiment." Deep down, he is one of the most sentimental people I know, but it is not in his nature to show it externally. It's one of those things you have to learn to live with, or decide to live without.

That being said, don't make yourself into Eeyore if you're not. If you enjoy the glitz and the show, indulge yourself. Go ahead and decorate the house for Christmas and give yourself extravagant presents with the money you're saving by not buying stuff for him. Do it to make yourself happy.

I also like Biscotti's compromise idea: "Let's go out to dinner on the day that happens to be your birthday, but I promise to keep the mariachi band away from our table."
posted by SashaPT at 3:15 PM on November 9, 2005

that's really sad. i hope you can work this out. here's my 2c:

as someone who is quite often not happy, i think you're "how to make someone happy" approach is a bit off. some of us are quite happy not being happy.

however that doesn't mean we don't care about other people. i would guess that he may be capable of understanding why this is important to you if you explain it like you have in your post. so all i can suggest is that you sit down and try to explain that you don't want him to be happy, but you do want to find some way where you can be happy while still sharing things with him.

one compromise, for example, might be to set a price limit on gifts, so that you still have the pleasure of giving, but not so much waste.

so i suggest talking and compromise (as ever, really :o).
posted by andrew cooke at 3:19 PM on November 9, 2005

Does he have any family or close friends who might be able to clue you in about why he's so down about holidays and birthdays?

Ahhh... another interesting point. Virtually no family to speak of and no close friends. None. The people he calls his 'friends' are those he worked with for years and years, but they never call and ask to get together or drop by to visit. Never.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 3:38 PM on November 9, 2005

I'm not really a gift person, but I still enjoy receiving gifts, if they are thoughtful and specifically tailored to me and my life. For example, I don't like getting "useless stuff", so if you have to get me a physical gift, food, wine or some other consumable works well.

Consider non-tangible gifts as well. Look at what makes him happy already and what makes him unhappy. Is there anything you can do to reduce his unhappiness or increase his happiness? (Maybe do X chore or responsibility for him for some period of time? Take him to Y event that you know he'd enjoy?)
posted by trevyn at 3:41 PM on November 9, 2005

I'd love to try and turn his attitude around...
The answer to your question is very, very simple. "Yes," it's absolutely possible to change his attitude and make him enjoy holiday celebrations. "No," it will absolutely never happen unless it's what he wants.
posted by cribcage at 3:46 PM on November 9, 2005

I loathe the gift-giving orgy that typifies birthdays, christmas, and suchlike. In my opinion, you should respect his opinion on these things.

I suggest that instead of buying him material crap that, if he really desired he'd already own, that you instead focus on what is truly important in life: enjoying each others' company.

Ten-to-one he'd appreciate that you spend the money on goat for some third-world citizen, instead of spending it on him.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:48 PM on November 9, 2005

Give him a gift for no reason at all other than you love him. Make a fantastic dinner, go see a show, give him something nostalgic or whimsical (collection of old scifi magazines, a Lego set, etc.) You get the idea. Just don't do it under the pretense of Christmas, birthday, or some time of year.

Personally I think the calendar-based gift culture is a mild form of insanity, so I don't think your SO is all that strange. You should respect that he thinks birthdays and Christmas are mostly hype, and that it makes him happier to avoid them.

Does he enjoy parties and socialization? Maybe the both of you can find a compromise in holiday revelry that doesn't involve gifts, say throwing your own party (you decorate) with NO GIFTS.
posted by ldenneau at 3:50 PM on November 9, 2005

I think there is a confusion here about 2 different things, emotions and beliefs. Being happy is a state (a generalization of an emotion). Usually people are happy when what they believe about the world appears true and consistent to them. People's beliefs abut the world, themselves, and other people are a large part of who they are. To your SO gift giving means something different than what it means to you. This is natural, as almost every person assigns different meanings to things. That is, they BELIEVE that a cause can have a different meaning. You also seem to have a pretty strong belief that he is "someone who is not happy most of the time"... he might actually tell you that. But that is what is called a "limiting" belief as it is the kind of belief that tends to keep you stuck. Instead, on your end accept that he is someone with different attitudes than you.

Now, as for helping him with these situations to make them more agreeable for him, my suggestion is to help him realize how gift giving/receiving is actually related to something that is important to him. You know him best, and know what things about life are important to him.. I can just guess by what you said.. but some examples;

He doesn't like the hype.. in the positive it means that he appreciates the truth and sincerity. So you might agree with his observation that there is alot of hype, and then show that gift giving is also an opportunity to demonstrate and have expressed to us in novel ways how people truely feel about us.

He doesn't like to spend money on unnecessary things.. in the positive it might be that he is someone that likes to focus on the essential.. So you might agree that there is much waste in gift giving/receiving and also discuss that in giving a gift you get an opportunity to identify and express what it is they might truely essentially need. Or that giving/receiving is an essential part of feeling a connection with someone and these situations allow us a natural framework to be an essential part of each others life...

You get the idea. Give it some thought and you will be able to figure out where your common ground actually is.
posted by blueyellow at 3:54 PM on November 9, 2005

Is his dislike of holidays and birthdays recent? If so, has anything prompted the change? If not, why has this become an issue now after eight years? Some people just aren't big fans of these things.

As far as the happiness issue you can't make anyone happy. People are responsible (maybe not the right word) for their own happiness and it's not something you can change.

I'm pretty young but I think men don't often change. So either he's changed which could be signs of many things (depression, unhappiness with you, more serious mental illness, etc.) or he's always been this way and it's now become a problem for you.

On a lighter note have you clearly indicated the importance to you? We can't read minds so try telling him very clearly that, while these things may not be important to him, they are to you and you'd appreciate his making an effort. Pick a non-confrontational time and a non-argumentative approach so he can listen and understand without getting defensive.

posted by 6550 at 4:02 PM on November 9, 2005

It's quite possible to be low-affect, not-extroverted, and not-cheerful, and be okay. Or to be all that and depressed, and not necessarily recognize it. There are websites where you can learn about depression. If you think he's unhappy or depressed you can say "I love you. You seem like you could be happier. If you want me to help; I'm here." Then it's entirely up to him.

What you can do is be happy, joyful, and share it with him. You love holidays; share your enjoyment. Give loving gifts, which may mean a well-thought-out card, book or cd. Appreciate him for who he is and what he has to offer, and trust that he will do the same for you.

There are a few things you can do if he is depressed and declines to seek change. Get him exercising and outdoors and play great music.
posted by theora55 at 4:11 PM on November 9, 2005

Is his dislike of holidays and birthdays recent? If so, has anything prompted the change? If not, why has this become an issue now after eight years?

This is what I was trying to find out. I do think it's relevant to the question.
posted by Gator at 4:45 PM on November 9, 2005

He may not hate it all as much as you think. All the hype and planning and tiptoeing around to make everything *perfect* can be very irritating, try to let him off the hook for some of that. He will still complain, but that could be as much out of habit than anything.

Meanwhile, be clear about what you expect on your special days, just because he doesn't like it doesn't mean you have to take crap.

(Note: As soon as I read somebody suggesting that he get therapy I stopped reading, so I have no idea how original I'm being. Sorry if I have repeated advice)
posted by Chuckles at 4:55 PM on November 9, 2005

The word is "pooh-poohing," FYI.
posted by abcde at 5:15 PM on November 9, 2005

You might consider looking into a book I heard about called "Love Languages." I haven't read it myself but it's been read and recommended by some friends. Here's a summary from Amazon:
A seasoned marriage counselor says people feel most loved in a marriage in one of five ways: quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Though we have a primary love language, we can learn a second language so that our spouse's needs are met. It's all about giving a little here and there, and accepting that our spouse's preferred channel may be different from ours.
There's also a quick online quiz you can both try for fun (sorry if there are any popups).

And, on preview, what theora55 and Chuckles wrote.
posted by Mike C. at 5:30 PM on November 9, 2005

Virtually no family to speak of and no close friends. None. The people he calls his 'friends' are those he worked with for years and years, but they never call and ask to get together or drop by to visit. Never.

that sounds a lot like someone who probably has not gotten a lot of birthday gifts, and spent more than a few holidays alone, and has probably done a very thorough job of rationalizing why that doesn't bother them.

i wouldn't expect an overnight change. but i doubt he really wants you to give up, either.
posted by jimw at 5:50 PM on November 9, 2005

SSB: We should so have lunch some time.

My beloved is also not a holiday fan. I enjoy the holidays, go especially nuts on Halloween, and my birthday is special to me. He hates exchanging gifts (I'm not big on lavish gifting myself) and really isn't in to all the hype.

We've talked about it extensively, and it's not much of a problem for us as long as we live and let live, and respect those things that are really important to the other person.

This attitude had the effect you may be looking for: he does end up enjoying the holidays. He even enjoyed Halloween, and it was because I was having so much fun. He loves to see me happy (as most partners do, I hope!), so that made it great for him.

So my take is this: have a blast, and carry him along.
posted by frykitty at 6:57 PM on November 9, 2005

This is probably stupid, but I hated holidays (especially Christmas/Thanksgiving) until friends of mine and I started celebrating fake ones like Festivus and Alvistime. I am not sure dorky crap like this would work on anyone but us ~20ish youngsters, but I know that for me it really was about the hype -- Christmas nowadays is a trite, clich├ęd, overblown orgy of commercialism that seems to have little to do with family or the Jesus; likewise, Thanksgiving is more about gluttony (both with food and being the first step towards the monster of Christmas) than giving thanks for what you have. Festivus, however, is all about getting together with everyone, even if it's to tell them how they disappointed you over the last year.

Now that the fake holidays have made me understand the holiday cheer a little bit, I can dig some of the real ones, like Halloween or New Years. But Christmas? No... for some of us, it just kind of seems like the American health care system of holidays -- it's not working for us and needs to be shot right in the frickin' head.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 7:42 PM on November 9, 2005

I've tried to cheer people like this up, and in the end they just brought me down, so I gave up on their attitude.
posted by easternblot at 8:19 PM on November 9, 2005

Guys tend to get practical gifts. Things that are "useful" in some way. It's not surprising that this tends to get boring after 20 years of adulthood, and coming up with potential gifts is just more effort than its worth.

So buy him something impractical and complete useless.
posted by smackfu at 8:30 PM on November 9, 2005

Books that espouse behavioral cognition, such as "feeling good" and "learned optimism" make clinical claims that we can learn to be positive in our language patterns, and that it will change our thinking, and not in some cheesey new age way either.
posted by craniac at 8:44 PM on November 9, 2005

Break up.
posted by angry modem at 8:50 PM on November 9, 2005

Blow jobs, more frequent enthusiastic sex, and try to get him to talk about what's bothering him (but not to necessarily resolve the issue, but just to be there and understand that there are issues - this last point; it may open up avenues that may surprise you. Being asked to talk about something that one doesn't think others want to know about [even though you've been married all these years] may open something up).
posted by PurplePorpoise at 11:35 PM on November 9, 2005

Apologies, I just skimmed, so I don't know if this was adequately covered in another reply, but just because someone dislikes gifts, birthdays, and holidays does NOT necessarily mean they aren't generally happy most of the time.
posted by juv3nal at 12:21 AM on November 10, 2005

Yeah, PurplePorpoise's on the right track. Mind blowing sex will lift the spirits of most any man.

The other sure-fire strategy: look him straight in the eyes and smile. Do it over and over and over. If you're subtle about it, and not overly creepy, the unexpected smiles will put him in a good mood.

As far as the holidays are concerned don't worry about it. Some people just don't do Christmas. It's fine. But his attitude shouldn't stop you from enjoying the holidays. Instead of focusing on him, focus on yourself. Don't ask yourself what you can do to make him happy, ask what he can do to make you happy. Tell him you want this to be a special Christmas and you expect him to do X, Y and Z. If you have a great time and put yourself in a good mood then he will have a great time and have a good mood. The great thing about the "selfish" approach is that you are almost guaranteed to have a good time. As far as he's concerned, there's a very good chance that if you're having a good time he'll have a good time too. Or, worst case, he'll have to grin and bear it which he should be willing to do as he loves you. Just remember, it's not about him--you're the one who loves Christmas so make sure you get the most out of it.
posted by nixerman at 12:38 AM on November 10, 2005

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