We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Cup: A Thought on Happiness and Relationships
It’s my birthday tomorrow and I’m realizing it’s been about a year since I had the following epiphany but haven’t gotten around to writing it down.
Last year shortly after my birthday I was having lunch with a friend and talking about relationships and I realized that somewhere along the line, my approach to relationships had changed significantly. I’d been building skills for several years around the idea that I needed to be happy with myself, not seeking a relationship to make me happy and I realized that not only had that shift occurred but a rather apt metaphor for it had formed in my unconscious mind. And in the midst of that conversation I found myself speaking it consciously for the first time.
If I think of my own happiness as a cup to be filled, I used to view the cup as my own thing and that I had to find a person to fill that cup. What I’ve come to feel now is that what goes into the cup is mine and
the cup is also mine, but the people in my life contribute by helping me to grow (or sometimes shrink) the size of the cup. So adding loves/friendships/etc. to my life helps to grow my capacity for happiness rather than making me happier. And whatever I am cultivating in myself helps to fill the cup with joy or love or sorrow or whatever else I am choosing in that time.
To say the least, this recontextualizing has made some slow but profound shifts in my way of being the past year. I’ve found myself both feeling closer to people and much more patient with time apart. And despite some very intense ups and downs with a major home renovation (which I am living in), I’ve started to find a much more even keel internal state without too much grasping for a relationship to try and distract myself.
As my birthday neared this year I started thinking back on this revelation and noticed as well that I’ve started to do a much better job of regulating my social interaction to my energy levels. In times when I’ve been particularly tired but overcommitted to social interaction I could feel like the contents of my cup were becoming watered down, too little of me to fill a too big cup or “like butter scraped over too much bread” (one of my favorite Tolkien lines that’s been coming to mind a lot ) and it’s been a useful cue to slow down, settle into a smaller group of friends for a bit until I had more of myself to give again.
And in weeks like the past two where I could feel myself constrained and feeling lonely under the pressures of construction it cued me to reach out to a few more folks to help me “upsize” my cup and have space to feel full instead of spilling over.
In addition, I’ve found myself becoming better at allowing friendships to be more fluid. I have a few friends who are in similarly stressful situations to my own and we’ve gone through some periods of being close and periods of needing tons of space or to not talk for a while. It still makes me nervous, but I’ve found a certain peace with allowing
that space to exist and a much better understanding of how allowing space can serve to make a friendship stronger sometimes.
In short, realizing that I am the source of my own joy and that the people in my life can help me to hold more of that joy and share it has helped me be happier, balance my time better, and feel more able to give and receive when I choose to spend time with friends and loved ones. And in the spirit of growing my cup, if you found this useful or have thoughts to share, I’d love to connect about it. 🙂