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Who Makes Who Happy? - The T-Shirt Tool

By Ishwari Sollohub
January 20, 2012

A humorous and helpful tool to remind us about whose "job" it is to make us happy.

I was doing a crafts project recently, using old T-shirts from thrift stores. One very large blue T-shirt had slogan on it: “It’s Your Job to Make Me Happy.” At first, it struck me as funny, and as I cut the shirt into strips for my project, I wondered about the origins of the slogan. Had the designer of the shirt been serious? Surely not; who could look at those words and not laugh at the obvious irony? Who actually believes that it’s someone else’s job to make them happy? Then I realized something – most of us actually do believe this.

Some people believe it straight out. “You get into a relationship to make each other happy.” To these people, I say,  go for it, as long as it’s working for you – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Others have come to realize that our happiness is our own responsibility, and that no one can “make” anyone else happy.  In our heads, we know this is true - but do we really operate from that truth?

·         How often do you “wear” this T-shirt inside your head, with the expectation that someone else is supposed to make you happy? (“Why aren’t you making me happy? Don’t you know it’s your job?”)

·         How often do you put the "shirt" on someone else, believing it’s your job to make them happy? (“Stop being unhappy. Don’t you see how hard I am working to make you happy?”)

In either case, you may wonder why you actually end up feeling miserable.

This is where the T-shirt has turned into a valuable relationship tool for me. Whenever I get caught up in anger, blame or disappointment, I envision myself wearing the T-shirt, facing my partner. I go inside and feel what happens when I consciously lay that expectation on him –“It’s your job to make me happy.” It’s usually quite enlightening. Then, I imagine putting the shirt on my partner; I see him facing me, wearing that slogan.  I notice how I feel when I believe that it’s my job to make him happy. Again, quite interesting.

I’m amazed to learn what I am telling myself when I am caught in these beliefs and expectations.

·         When it‘s “his job” to make me happy,  whatever he’s doing (or not doing) hurts my feelings and makes me mad. I sulk or become angry: “How can he do this to me; he should know better.” I stay mad and blame him.

·         When it‘s “my job” to make him happy, I can’t do or say what is true for me, because he might feel bad, or get angry, or not like me, or… or… or…  I then stuff my feelings, do or say what I think will make him happy, and become resentful of him and critical of myself, blaming myself for having “bad” feelings.

In both scenarios, I may feel a need to distance from my partner. The belief that we are supposed to make each other happy backfires; instead of creating happiness and intimacy, it causes pain and separation. Things get even more convoluted when I have both of us “wearing the shirt” at once:

·         I am unhappy, for whatever reason. Instead of dealing with what’s going on inside me, I “put on the shirt.” I tell myself, “he is supposed to make me happy and he is not doing his job.” Instead of feeling my own unhappiness, I have made it his fault. I might feel angry or blaming.

·         However, I also have him wearing the shirt. In spite of the pain I am feeling, I tell myself, “I am supposed to make him happy. If I say or do anything about the way I feel, he might not like it.” Now, in addition to feeling unhappy, angry and blaming (“this is all his fault”), I might feel frustration, shame and guilt (“this is all my fault”).

I can’t make sense of it; either way I turn, I am in pain. I’m caught in a catch-22. It’s easy to see how much tension this creates inside, and how I might end up engaging in some kind of numbing or distracting behavior to relieve the discomfort. I am now on my way to addiction.

When I am not conscious of these thoughts, expectations and beliefs, I can be overwhelmed and mystified by how I feel and how I act. Bringing awareness to them, I begin to understand how they drive my actions and feelings. This helps me see that I can choose to think and act differently.

The “T-Shirt Tool” has become very helpful to me, in bringing conscious awareness to my own negative patterns of thought and behavior.  As I imagine wearing the shirt (It’s my partner’s job to make me happy), or putting it on him (It’s my job to make him happy), I can more easily see through these erroneous beliefs, making it possible to think, act and even feel differently. I can direct my energy toward creating my own sense of happiness, rather than blaming it on, or expecting it from, my partner. I often find that my sense of humor kicks in, which is another very helpful tool. When I can laugh at the silliness of the whole thing, I know I am on the road to real and lasting change.

I still wonder about who designed that T-shirt. I sort of wish I hadn’t cut it up and used it in my project – a rag rug on my kitchen floor. Then again, I walk on that rug every day, and often I remember the slogan that’s woven in there. Maybe it’s a good thing I used it after all. Meanwhile, as often as I can, when I get caught up in relationship issues, I ask myself: “Who do I have wearing the T-shirt?”


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