(Photo above by Xandro Vandewalle / Pexels)
It’s perfectly natural to feel happy when someone laughs at our joke or compliments us on our new jean jacket. We are social beings, after all, and cues from those around us that we are a cool, kind, funny person feel good.
Of course, understanding others’ expectations is necessary to some extent to function in the world. After all, you wouldn’t show up to a job interview in sweatpants and a pair of fuzzy slippers because “you just want to do you.” It’s unhealthy, however, when we constantly seek approval from others to the point that we stop trusting ourselves or worse, they become the source of our self-esteem.
This need for approval can creep into our life in sneaky ways. Therapist Hanna Rose created a checklist to determine if we are being swayed by our need for approval. Some approval-seeking behaviors are: Do you feel fear before telling someone in your life about a decision you’ve made? Do you change your actions based on fear of how another may react? Do you inadvertently lie or omit the truth when speaking to someone, due to fear of their response or opinion? Do you let others’ opinions dictate what choices you make?
If you answered yes to any of these, congratulations, you’re a human being. Now let’s get some tips from Buddhist philosophy on how to stop letting our need for approval dominate our lives.
Appreciate the ways we are unique
Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda writes:
You must respect your life. You will be unhappy if you allow yourselves to be swayed by society’s prejudices, passing trends and contradictions. Never forget to live true to your convictions.
Discussions on Youth, p. 76
It’s true, our society is filled with contradictory, ever-changing standards of beauty and success. That’s why we should never base our value on such things. Even people around us can share their opinion of what we are doing without putting much thought into it.
Buddhism teaches that instead of trying to conform to society’s standards or the opinions of others, we should learn to appreciate what makes us great and unique. We don’t need to change our personality, we need to develop our character. Naturally, we’ll come to feel great pride in the qualities that make us special and in the vision we have for our life.
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is a Buddhist chant that describes our original, true self. We are a person of unlimited worth and courage. As we chant, we awaken to this and even celebrate the ways we are different from others.
Building a strong self is one of the main goals of Buddhist practice. The 13th-century Buddhist teacher Nichiren was so serious about living true to himself that he vowed never to be influenced by what he called the “Eight Winds.” They are: prosperity, decline, disgrace, honor, praise, censure, suffering and pleasure. In other words, the strength to live true to ourselves in the face of the eight winds is one of the great benefits of practicing Buddhism.
Building a strong self is one of the main goals of Buddhist practice.
How can we have the confidence to live true to ourselves no matter what others say? Here Daisaku Ikeda offers a simple, but profound answer: work hard. He writes:
As for self-confidence—self-confidence comes from hard work and effort. You’re deluding yourself if you think you can have self-confidence without it. Only those who strive to challenge a goal and work toward it at their own pace and in their own way; only those who keep trying, no matter how many times they may fail, can develop unshakable confidence in themselves. Self-confidence is synonymous with an invincible will. You cannot be said to have true self-confidence if your opinion of yourself seesaws from high to low every time you compare yourself to others. A life spent judging yourself in terms of others will only end in frustration and deadlock.
Discussions on Youth, p. 671
When we work hard toward our dreams and when we do things to support other people, we develop a deep sense of pride and self-confidence. Our hard work is undeniable proof that we are an incredible person and capable of making an impact on the world.
Yes, each day we are constantly tempted to seek approval from others, but we don’t have to let that desire run our life. A solid Buddhist practice gives us the courage to live true to ourself, regardless of the circumstances and what others may think.