Modern society has not advanced one bit ever since it started. Sure, technology has advanced. And the world is safer. But when you talk about society itself, nothing has changed.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best in his 1841 essay called Self-Reliance:
“Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not.”
People have not changed. The problems you’re facing today are not new. And one of those problems is that we are needy. VERY needy.
Why is that a problem? Without self-reliance, you can never be consistently happy. And even though the purpose of life is not happiness in my opinion, being happy is still something that’s important to us.
Happiness determines the quality of your life. No one wants to live a shitty life.
Let’s look at how self-reliant you are.
- Do you expect your romantic partner to make you happy?
- Do you think your friends should always be there for you?
- Do you expect that your boss will always give you money?
- Do you say people are stupid when they don’t buy your products or services?
- Do you find it difficult to be alone?
- Do you feel like a nobody when people ignore you at work?
- Do you feel hurt when someone doesn’t invite you to a birthday or any other social event?
I can’t say I’ve been immune to those thoughts. In fact, in the past, my answer was yes to all the above questions.
I was the opposite of self-reliant. It’s not surprising that we’re this way. It all starts when we’re born. We rely on our parents to survive. And when we become adults we should become self-reliant individuals, but funnily enough, we become even more dependent on others.
In life, we always turn outwardly for everything: Happiness, advice, affection, love, approval.
We ask experts for advice. We use drugs when we’re in pain. We expect others to solve our problems.
When we look at ourselves, we never even consider that we might not need those things. Being part of society is great and all. But never take it too far. Otherwise, you become a dependent robot who can’t function by itself.
It’s much better to rely on yourself. Not in a selfish way. But in an emotional way. You don’t need others to be happy.
In the same essay about self-reliance, Emerson also says:
“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.”
It’s one of the paradoxes in life. We want to be liked and loved by the ones we care about.
But the moment we lose ourselves and our identity, we can no longer be the person we want to be. When you’re needy, you only damage your relationships in the long-term.
But at the same time, we believe that it’s bad to depend on yourself. But it’s not. Because when you’re self-reliant, you can enrich the lives of the people around you much more.
I’ve only learned this in recent years. And even though I must confess I don’t fully master emotional self-reliance, I have made significant steps that positively changed my life.
It’s a skill that I recommend everyone to learn. What you will find next are 6 lessons that can help you to become emotionally self-reliant.
I’ve drawn these lessons from Stoicism, Transcendentalism, and Pragmatism.
Here we go.
1. Have a voice
How often do you think or feel something and you’re afraid of speaking it? We feel that we always have to agree with everything and everyone.
That makes us afraid of confrontation. Instead of being timid, stand up right and say what you think without reservation.
Also, never shy away from confrontation. If you want to have a voice in the world, you can’t expect that will happen smoothly.
To practice this, for the next few weeks, don’t shy away from verbal confrontation with others. Not in an aggressive way. But when you don’t agree with something; say it.
When we have a conflict, we often say to ourselves, “I don’t care.” And we walk away. But is that really the case? Do you really not care? Often, it’s just a defense mechanism.
It’s always harder to speak your mind and to stand for something.
Also, you don’t have to agree with everything your idols or examples say. I look up to many people, but I don’t consider them as saints. No one is.
2. Learn how to master your emotions
We’re too quick with expressing our emotions.
- “I’m tired.”
- “This day sucks.”
- “People are untrustworthy.”
- “My belly aches.”
- “My boss is a narcissist.”
Who the fuck cares?
Nothing’s going to change when you let out all your emotions. In other words: Speaking out your emotions is not always useful.
Instead, learn how to become a master of your feelings and emotions. I’m not asking you to become a robot. No, just know the purpose of emotions.
Are you sad? Are you in love? Are you mourning? Don’t hold it back. That’s real.
Are you just annoyed? Being a little child? Check yourself. Don’t let worthless emotions consume you.
3. Celebrate adversity
Most people hide from difficulty and internal turmoil. You don’t need to travel to the other side of the world to find yourself. Remember this: Your problems will always travel with you.
Face your challenges and demons head on.
I even like to take it one step further. When something bad happens to my health, relationships, or finances, I’m thankful.
Every setback is an opportunity to test your self-reliance. That’s why you have to celebrate adversity. Without it, you will never become a complete and reliable person.
4. Separate yourself from everything
Nothing is forever. We forget that in daily life. We get attached to objects, people, and memories.
To truly appreciate something, you have to realize that you will lose it one day. If you believe that you will live forever or that you will be loved until the end of time—you get lazy. You will take things for granted.
But once you separate yourself from everything in life, you become a passenger who tries to make the most out of every single minute.
Always keep this in the back of your mind: I owe nothing, and nothing is owed to me.
When you do that, you’re not only self-reliant but also appreciative of life.
5. Get comfortable with yourself
Do you freak out when you’re alone for a moment? Most of us can’t stand the thought of spending a day or longer alone.
Instead of grabbing your phone and texting/calling a friend, go for a walk. Just walk around town.
Maybe take a book with you. Head over to a coffee shop. Order a drink. Read your book. Maybe talk to a stranger. Daydream a bit.
If you’re not into reading, try learning a language, go to meetups, join a running club. There are a million ways to spend your time. You don’t need others to have a good time.
Always have a list of things you can do with your time. If one thing falls through, don’t worry, do something else with your precious time (just don’t waste it).
Whatever you do, get comfortable in your own skin, it’s the only one you will ever have.
6. Live without regrets
Life is a series of unrelated events and decisions. We always try to make sense out of it. We say things like, “everything happens for a reason.”
But understand: Life just happens. You will never be able to explain everything with 100% certainty and proof.
It’s useless to think, “what if?” You are where you are in life because of a few random things, plus the decisions you made personally.
Just accept it. If you’re unhappy or if you want to change, just change your standards. You can’t change the past. So it only makes sense to live without regret. See things for what they are.
And that brings us back to Emerson again, he said:
“If we live truly, we shall see truly . . . When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish.”
And that’s life. It’s easy as changing your existing thoughts when they are not useful to you.
You see? Happiness has been in your life all along. You just don’t see it all the time. But when you stop looking for it outside of yourself, you will find that you can truly rely on yourself — and that will help you to love others.
Not because you need it, but simply because you can.
Darius Foroux writes about productivity, habits, decision making, and personal finance. His ideas and work have been featured in TIME, NBC, Fast Company, Inc., Observer, and many more publications. Join his free weekly newsletter.