Giving Up People Pleasing

How do you make everyone happy? Many of us face that issue as we navigate family gatherings. We simply want to juggle that happiness for all people because, frankly, nobody wants everyone unhappy. So, for kicks, I googled “How to make everyone happy,” and within a fraction of a second, I received over 30 million results. 30 million different thoughts and ideas and ways to make all the people you love in your life happy. 

We are people pleasers

While I definitely fall into that category of “happiness-provider-seeker” I know it’s not humanly possible. There simply is no way for everyone to be happy because everyone has different needs and desires. Yet that doesn’t mean we don’t try, ESPECIALLY when family time comes! Pleasing everyone means trying to make sure family traditions are still in place for everyone. Pleasing everyone is challenging as it involves considering what my in-laws and cousins find important as well as finding space for the traditions of my sibling(s) and their family traditions, but also including our own traditions and wants. 

Pleasing everyone is impossible

And while we plan and implement and plan some more, inevitably, something is left out, or someone is unhappy. And often that person is me. I get so busy trying to juggle everyone else's needs and making them happy that I am too overwhelmed to be happy. My own desires and thoughts get tossed out the window because I’ve been so busy trying to make everyone else happy. In the end, I feel like the worst circus juggler in history. I can’t manage to catch a single ball! 

What should I seek?

The problem is that I’m trying to force happiness to take place. You can't make everyone happy whether they like it or not. Happiness is a feeling that comes upon you that you have no control over. Happiness is an external thing that then internally happens. Happiness is NOT what I should be seeking. What I should really be seeking and desiring is joy.

Why seek joy?

Happiness is an emotional state that comes over you when something outside of you brings you a bubbly-elated state. The problem with happiness is that it only comes when things are going well. Joy, on the other hand, is a feeling you have when the main things remain the main thing. It is deeper than whatever circumstances are going on in your life. You could be in the direst of dire situations and still find joy because you are CHOOSING to pursue the important things and not the details.

Similarly, you could be in the happiest of situations and still not feel happy because maybe your thoughts and heart are somewhere else in that moment and because, internally, you are not focused on the deeply important. Joy is a decision. Joy is a conviction and dedicated movement of your mind, heart, and emotions to simply not allow anything outside of you to change the good feeling you have inside of you. So when that apple pie won’t bake and then eventually burns, you can still find joy (trust me on that one--we have what is now called Kelly’s “3-alarm apple pie").

Biblical Joy

Paul writes in Romans 12:12 that we are to REJOICE in hope, be patient in tribulation, and constantly be in prayer. We read in James 1:2 that we are to count all things in joy. Again, it’s finding that regardless of what is going on externally we understand that there are just so many things we cannot control, but we CAN control our own joy. David consistently chose joy regardless of his trials and tribulations. For David, it was recognizing that there are so many things that are outside of his control, and while those things may even try to harm him, he was still capable of controlling his emotions in those moments. Ultimately, his joy was found in the God who saved, the God who loved, the God who proclaimed, and the God who watched over and protected.

Practical Help

While I cannot force you to find joy or even avoid juggling happiness, I hopefully can challenge you to find joy. While that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make people happy (I cannot deny the fact that I find joy in bringing others joy), we do need to let go of trying to force things to happen that are outside of our control. Here are a few tips:

  • Commit now to the understanding that it’s not about traditions or wants or specific food – it’s about deeper, important things. It's about knowing God has you and loving the people you are with. You may have to remind yourself that when that 3-alarm apple pie is going off but the reminder should soften the blow and help you relax.
  • Choose joy. Understand that no matter what happens outside of you you can still be joyful. Henri Nouwen once wrote that, “joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” Choose joy.
  • Be thankful. Taking a page from David and simply being thankful regardless of what happens is simply good advice.

There obviously are other things we can do, and I still have over 30 million of them to consider (give or take a few), but right now, I have some smoke detectors to disable and a pie to bake, knowing I'll focus on keeping first things first. 

About the author — Rev. Kelly Vander Woude

Kelly Vander Woude is always looking for something yummy to put on his smoker…and then getting friends and family to enjoy it with him. When he’s not smoking food he can be found playing and hanging out with his two kids, wife, and their dog, as well as preaching at Immanuel CRC in Fort Collins, CO. Oh…and he’s usually trying to learn some new musical instrument with the hopes of one day mastering at least one of them! You can find more of his writings at

Other programs from ReFrame Ministries:

© 2006–2024 ReFrame Ministries. All rights reserved.

Privacy Policy / Sitemap

User Experience Design by Justin Sterenberg

Web Development by Build For Humans