Taking Full Responsibility For Your Life

How accepting responsibility for your happiness empowers you to become happy

Taking responsibility – This is a very important principle. As an adult, you are solely responsible for the choices in your life. So many people look to blame others or circumstances for the things that are not right in their lives, or
more so for our unhappiness. This attitude is self-delusional. The
concept that we’re fully responsible for the entirety of our lives, a notion
rooted in the principle of the simultaneity of cause and effect, could not be
more evident. Everything we experience in our lives today appears as an effect
of causes we ourselves have made in the past, and that everything we’ll see in
the future will occur as a result of causes we ourselves are making in the

Having said that, the notion that we’re completely responsible for everything in our
lives has immense value once properly understood. At the very least, it points
us toward a more complete recognition of the power we do have to affect the most important outcome of any life event – how happy or unhappy it makes us. Fully understanding this could empower people to accomplish more than they believe they can.

Certainly believing that you have more control over your life than you actually do
will lead nowhere good. Believing we only need to act kindly and morally, for
example, to make everything turn out all right will surely cause us only
disappointment and bitterness. We must, of course, acknowledge we often have no
direct control over what happens to us (i.e., we can’t simply decide
we’re not going to get cancer and expect that decision to protect us from
actually getting cancer). However, the degree of control we have over how we respond
to what happens to us is far greater than we often realize and that it remains
the key to our happiness.

As human beings, we’re endowed with an extraordinary degree of self-awareness,
self-awareness we’re constantly engaging to form value judgments about the
events of our lives. Typically, these value judgments sort into two camps:
“good” and “bad.” The problem is that our minds are so
powerfully predisposed to make judgments in general that they make most of them
too quickly, based on too little data. What’s more, these judgments almost
always leave out a key ingredient – our own ability to affect a particular
outcome. So when we hear we have cancer, we immediately judge it
“bad” – and as most would agree having cancer is bad, we leave
it at that. Except that the ultimate value of our receiving such a diagnosis is
elusively difficult to forecast. What if we’re able to find a clinical trial
that increases the likelihood of our being cured to over ninety-five percent? Or,
to speculate even more wildly, we were to start a foundation to raise money for
our particular cancer that becomes so fabulously successful it ends up playing
a significant role in our particular cancer’s eventual cure? Even if we die
from it ourselves, might we at least be given pause to consider whether or not,
on balance, this was a good deal? We do, after all, have to die of something
eventually. I say this not to sound callous but to point out that we have more
power to create value out of adversity than most of us believe, especially than
we believe at the moment adversity first confronts us.

What’s more, as Viktor Frankl famously said, “When we can’t change the outcome,
we are challenged to change ourselves.” This is more
than just a consolation prize for being unable to get what we really want (i.e.
our cancer cured). It points to the important fact that how we internalize
adversity, whether or not we feel empowered to challenge it or feel completely
overwhelmed by it, has more to do with our inner life state (and therefore the
beliefs operating in our lives which determine it) than with external events
themselves. I’m certainly not saying that getting cancer isn’t awful; but that
the suffering it causes in almost everyone who’s had it is due to the fact that
almost no one (with a few notable exceptions) views cancer as a value-creating
proposition at the outset (those who come out cured at the other end sometimes
do, but mostly not those who ultimately die from it). To do so of course
requires a life state of enormous size, one undaunted, enormously
self-possessed, and brimming with courage and vitality. Which is exactly what
I’m arguing we should all be seeking to acquire.

So what does it really mean to take full responsibility for your life? It means, in my
view, to take full responsibility for your happiness. It means recognizing that
how things look at the outset doesn’t determine how things will end, and that
although we can’t control everything (or perhaps anything) we want, we all have
enormous ability to influence how much happiness or suffering the events
of our lives bring us. Our focus should be on strengthening our inner
fortitude, on developing a spirit that refuses to be defeated. For that spirit
brings with it an enormous amount of power, power that can help us live up to
the idea that we are responsible for our lives and everything in them. And if
we can live up to that idea, refusing to become immured in blaming anyone or
anything else for our misfortune, we’ll find ourselves in the best possible
position to win and be ‘winners’. And even if we don’t – even if we do
ultimately go down – at least we’ll be able to do so swinging, with a full
sense of ownership of our fate. A sense of ownership that even in the face of
defeat may yet provide us satisfaction.