Kissing Approval Goodbye – the Key to Happiness?

kissing approval goodbye

Hardliner. Grouch. Curmudgeon.

If you opt to go your own way and let the approval of others take a back seat, you’re going to be called these names at some point. But you’re going to be happier. And you’re going to be more respected, too.

I always found it hard to ignore what other people thought. I wanted approval. After all, impressing my professors at university seemed like a good thing to do. I respected their opinions and they controlled the way my performance in college was viewed (they gave me grades).

Yet I treated creative writing class differently. I was passionate about my fiction and was not about to conform to a teacher’s idea what writing was good (she loved Salinger and little else). So I continued to plug away at my neo-Beat stories and delivered some fine work. I got a C. Then I got a story from that class published. I didn’t have my teacher’s approval and I was happy I hadn’t changed to start writing her way.

Who Has the Moral Authority?

When you base your confidence on the approval of others, you are giving people a power they don’t deserve. Often, you’re overvaluing the opinion of a single person (as in the case of a professor or boss). Even when it seems like a group is banding against you (like a number of classmates or coworkers might), you are better off establishing a sound set of principles and sticking to them.

A manager or boss can dominate a workplace because he or she has the power to fire employees. But that should never stop you from standing up for what you believe in. Imagine a boss firing you because you wouldn’t change some numbers or put a positive spin on an unethical deal? It might happen, but they’d have an awful lot of trouble explaining it or having a look in the mirror.

A Workplace Test

Several years after college, I was working as a waiter in a New York restaurant while I pitched my stories to magazines and entered contests. I tried to be an artist who was not starving. Though I hoped to keep the impact of my restaurant job to a minimum, I realized I would have to confront workplace drama on a daily basis.

It came to a head one night when I was closing the restaurant with one of my erratic coworkers (“An erratic New York waiter?” you say. No, really, he was.). We’d throw all the waiters’ tips into a pile and then distribute them among the busboys, bartender and food runners. It was a simple enough task. However, my co-worker’s tips never made it into the pile. He swore he added them (no one corroborated) and showed us his empty pockets, yet we were missing more or less the amount his report indicated he owed.

It wasn’t pretty. The manager, who treated him like a wayward son, asked questions of everyone present. My co-worker wasn’t convincing. Nevertheless, since we both were handling the money, she decided we’d have to split the difference. I didn’t like that solution. She told me the discussion was over and hinted I wouldn’t have a job if I held onto my opinion.

I had my rent due and needed the money, but I wasn’t about to pay for him to take extra cash home. I held firm. I said I’d pay when the owners (or police) heard the story and agreed I was accountable. That didn’t sit well with her, but she had no choice. Once they’d heard it, the owners didn’t like my co-worker’s story and said I didn’t owe anything.

Well, I was brutalized in my subsequent schedules (which the same manager controlled), but I had stood my ground and felt good about it. I was also able to pay my rent that week. Not entirely coincidentally, the waiter in question was fired soon after for trying to pick up a customer at the restaurant.

I never received an apology, but my schedule was better and I had credibility. My manager respected me for my defiance, whether or not she’d admit it.

Applying it to Personal Relationships

Later on, as I established new relationships and took different jobs, I held onto the belief that approval of others shouldn’t affect the way I act. When you respect people and treat them well, you are going to have solid relationships in all aspects of life.

The opinions of others have too many variables to control. Epictetus believed that anything out of your control is not worth sweating over. I have to agree. People will be misguided, judge you wrongly and treat you poorly, but so what? If you tried to correct every misconception, you wouldn’t have a moment to yourself. Sometimes it’s better to let someone have the wrong opinion of you than waste your energy trying to correct it. If the relationship is meaningful to the two of you, the truth will emerge.

Staying true to yourself will allow you to spend more time with people you respect. You might not have 5,000 Facebook or real-life friends, but your relationships are going to be sound.

Am I called the kind of guy who is difficult, stubborn or curmudgeonly? I have been called everything (unpleasant things among them), but I know I’m not selling myself short. And nine times out of ten, the people I respect feel the same way about me.

Before you start looking for a new job or new friends, do an internal check. Are you happy with yourself? Do you respect your own principles? If so, you are ready to take your act to the world. When you encounter resistance, don’t buckle. Your own opinion is worth more than that. Your happiness is, too.

Photo by Nithi Anand

24 thoughts on “Kissing Approval Goodbye – the Key to Happiness?”

  1. Excellent post. I loved your story about sticking true to what you beleived. In the end integrity and truth are important values to you. If you hadn’t stuck to them then you wouldn’t have been happy or true to yourself. Seeking approval means living by the approvers values not your own – I’d call that a life of permanent inner conflict. It’s tough to stick to your guns but sometimes you have to do that.

  2. Brilliant post. Thanks for sharing.

    First rule in life: Be true to your self.

    Second (and subsequent rules): Respect the first rule when making them.


  3. Great article. Basing our confidence on the approval on others is truly giving our power away. I spent the first 23 years looking for approval from my mother and the resulting disappointments caused much unhappiness. Once I learned that 1) I didn’t need it to be happy and confident and 2) it wasn’t in her nature to offer approval to anyone, I was able to take back that power.

    You’ve got the basis for a full book here. Imagine how many people you could help…

  4. yes! Very, very, very important to let go of a need for approval. I am gradually learning in my life that the very best way for me to care less and less what others think is to stay very focused on my own goals and intentions. When I do that it gives me the best reason of all to try to please others or win their approval. In fact I wrote a blog post about doing just that named, “Be About Your Own Business” that some of your readers might also enjoy… it can be found at: Again, thanks for the great post and for the great reminder!

  5. Great article.
    Just think about how much more happy we would all be if we knew what we believed and lived by what we believe.
    As an employment counselor, I often see people who are miserable at work and as the result have contacted me to assist them. Why are they miserable? Not because they see themselves as underpaid, or underappreciated, but because they are operating under the illusion that doing whatever gains approval at work equates with being happy at work.
    It is sad when I am working with someone who thinks that if they simply earn more or get more recognition at work that they will find happiness. Over the years, I have explained the simple fact that until they break free of the “approval trap” they will continue to drudge along as they slowly sink deeper into the abyss.
    Over the years, I have had a number of people try the “earn more or get more recognition at work” track only to find that without freeing themselves from the “approval trap,” they end back where they started, miserable.

    1. RT, you are so right. Money and recognition are great but if a person does not break out of the approval trap, they will not find happiness at work.
      I just wish more “Career Experts” would speak to this issue.

      1. Lisa
        This is an issue that will few professional people will talk about – not many companies want renegade people. There was an article I read that stated the discouragement of independent thinking in corporations is a major contributor to entrepreneurship which makes sense but if someone wants to be in a large corporation they will not go far as a follow your truth person. Kissing up is often the way to move up.

  6. You know sometimes when you seek an answer and something just pops up as a message?
    Well, this was for me. I am exactly at that crossroad. I feel I have spent my whole life seeking others approval, just to be loved and appreciated. (Which is a contradiction in the first place. If they really loved me for who I was I didn’t need to seek their approval.They would have respected me for who I was.) Anyway…
    I am at that crossroad. Exchausted of being over-considerate. I have been considerating myself away, always being nice and don’t cause too many waves and so on.
    Well, I got the message. I need to find my own thing (whatever that is..) and stop trying to blend in just to be approved and loved. I wonder how many others who has done the same as I have and over-considerating them self away.
    So thanks for this post! It gave me the kick in the butt I needed.

  7. Eric, I’m a first time reader here. Thanks for doing this article today. It’s something we all know, of course, but it helps so much to have the message delivered again so eloquently. In my case, your timing was right on the money. Being abandoned by former “friends” because of mental illness can take a toll. But reading a “battery charging” article like yours makes me ask myself why their opinions were so important to me in the first place. Thanks again.

  8. Awesome article. I agree it’s a difficult thing to do to let go of what other people think. This is probably one of the top things that holds people back from going after their dreams, however outlandish they may seem.

    I was lucky to have an older brother who has always been someone who marches to the beat of his own drum and was always really good at ignoring the naysayers and negative influences in his life. He inspired me to do the same and I’m now working on my dream.

  9. Eric
    Thanks so much for sharing. I feel like I continuously struggle with this issue – I am an independent, strong thinker who feels like I easily alienate people so I try extra hard to be nice to people and sometimes I find I put myself on the backseat to be accomodating. This always comes back to bite me. The fact is most people like to be around conformist and to be different / outspoken makes people uncomfortable. I do relate very well with strong minded people who have integrity – I find these people to be intellectually stimulating and non-judgemental, So you are right, if you want to be happy and thrive – its better to find people who accept you when you are true to yourself then to deny yourself to be able to fit in.

  10. Thanks for this gentle but necessary reminder.
    Many years ago I assumed a Director’s position at a for-profit college. I said yes to the position because I needed the extra money. I slowly became a different person, and physically ill very frequently. I thought that I would have more success if I became a “yes” person. It does not work! I am here 11 years later, and after being riffed from that position to say: Live your own life and dreams. If something is wrong it is wrong; regardless of the reason.
    I am starting on a new road of discovery and I would say lesson 1 is to be true to myself.

  11. I really like this! Nevermind waiting on the approval of others – “do an internal check. Are you happy with yourself? Do you respect your own principles? If so, you are ready to take your act to the world.”
    Well said Eric!

  12. There is so much I value in this post.

    Too often we compromise our principals because of our jobs. Usually, it comes down to either compromising our values or risk being terminated. The more importance we place on income, or the more responsibilities we have, the more difficult it becomes to stay true to our values. However, when we do remain true, not only do we remain in harmony with our values, we also demonstrate integrity to those around us.

    Thanks for a great read!

  13. you are so right
    we are giving people much more power than they should have then feel bad when they misuse it! building self confidence is the key
    many thanks

  14. What a perfectly written post. I so needed to read this right now this morning. It seems so easy to live by our terms, but not so much at times. I have been currently reading A Rebel Chick Mystic’s Guide by Lisa Selow. She writes about exactly this, about living life by your own rules and that you are already perfect. It’s a great read, is where I got it if anyone wants to check it out! Thanks again for this brilliant post!

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