Choice vs. Obligation: Intention is Everything

What’s the difference between being a yes-person and being a kind person? I was faced with this tricky question recently. Afer pondering it for a little while, I came to the conclusion that it is all about intention. As I have talked about before, I am a recovering people-pleaser. I used to constantly say yes when I really wanted to say no. I would feel obligated to do whatever would make the other person/people happy, no matter how miserable and resentful it might make me feel. And in my experience doing something for someone else when you don’t want to almost always makes you miserable.

Have you ever said yes to a party invitation when you really desperately just wanted to veg out on the couch? How much did you enjoy that party? And how much did you add to the party for the host and other guests? My guess is not much on both counts. So it wasn’t a kindness to the other party-goers and it certainly wasn’t a kindness to you. Saying yes to everything and anything is just not healthy.

So how could a year of kindness (essentially consciously trying to make someone else happy each and every day) actually be good for a chronic yes-person? Because for me it meant that giving is no longer an obligation, it is a choice. A choice that I make over again each day. I decide to look out for opportunities to be kind, and then if I am sure it will be no skin off my nose, and that I expect nothing from the recipient, I take the opportunity. If it feels like an obligation or a chore, I simply don’t do it. If I have a day when I feel so overstretched that I don’t have anything left to give, I decide to take it easy and be kind to myself instead.

After starting this project I quickly realised that if I’m feeling obligated to be kind then I am far more likely to take it personally if the recipient of my kindness is ungrateful or unappreciative. Giving with a negative intention (because you feel you “should”, to get something out of it, to make someone think better of you) is not really a kindness to anyone. Because eventually you will feel so resentful you’ll explode, or you will burn out, or you will simply forget that you actually have any wants or needs of your own. And all of these scenarios will actually prevent you from giving fully to others.

So the next time you are about to say “yes” to something, please stop
and ask yourself, is it because you feel obligated or can you genuinely say is it an easy and happy choice?

18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Monica Kade
    Oct 03, 2011 @ 20:47:06

    Very wise words. Enjoyable read.


  2. happydancecat
    Oct 03, 2011 @ 22:55:02

    Thanks Monica!


  3. enermazing
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 02:08:34

    “…, I decide to take it easy and be kind to myself instead.”
    Beautiful argumentation! I know what you mean by feeling “miserable and resentful”… I used to be a yes-sayer, too, not out of obligation or to please anybody but in order to avoid feeling guilty about having said no. Over the years I came to feel exploited, suffered from burn-out and depression and began to block and avoid people around me.
    Choosing consciously to do something – or not! – helps also to remain balanced with whatever belongs to the “don’t like” category. Remembering that I’ve chosen it leads to “Doesn’t matter, do it anyway now, and don’t do it again” 😉


    • happydancecat
      Oct 09, 2011 @ 20:27:06

      You’re definitely not alone in burning out from saying yes once too often, Maria. But you’re totally right, simply remembering that you have made the choice to say yes is empowering, even if you have second thoughts later on!


  4. Roberta
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 07:49:43

    Sometimes I find it difficult to be around a lot of people at once..I tend to gravitate towards one on one because I am an encourager and just seems so much easier. You gave us a lot to think about..Thank you!


  5. Raven Sundahl
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 08:12:53

    I recently (yesterday) subscribed to your blog and enjoy your posts soo much. Thank you for blogging! 🙂


  6. jazzymimi
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 07:27:12

    So true. Thank you so much for this refreshing reminder.


  7. Lesh Karan
    Oct 05, 2011 @ 13:10:12

    Brilliant. Absolutely Brilliant. Couldn’t have said it better myself!


    • happydancecat
      Oct 09, 2011 @ 20:47:33

      Thanks Lesh! I wish I had organised my thoughts this way when I was first asked the question. For some reason I find it much easier to articulate my thoughts in writing.


  8. Eric Winger
    Oct 06, 2011 @ 09:38:31

    Hate to hear you getting down about being kind and saying ‘yes’.

    Saying ‘yes’ is hard, especially when the person asking you for things doesn’t complete the bargain by appreciating your help. I wish I could tell you my own life-long experience with this.

    But at the same time, I get pretty dejected when I listen to the chorus of no’s around me. I get even more dejected when I hear my own voice among them.

    As I progress through my year of giving time and kindness, I do find myself saying ‘no’. But that ‘no’ often comes after saying ‘yes’ to something else.

    Maybe the answer is to be able to say ‘no’, but then making the point of saying ‘yes’ to something on your own terms.

    Just a thought,



    • happydancecat
      Oct 09, 2011 @ 20:55:01

      I’m not down at all about being kind, or saying yes, Eric! That’s what I was trying to say … I’ve learned how to say yes in a way that makes me very happy. I used to get down about feeling *obligated* to say yes to everything and anything, even when it was asking too much of myself and leaving me totally drained. I still say yes most of the time, but I’m also getting comfortable with saying no sometimes. Usually I say no to someone because I am saying yes to myself.So don’t worry, my chin is very much up. 🙂


  9. brittany220
    Oct 09, 2011 @ 16:04:22

    Wise post! I have a friend who can’t say no, and is always doing favors for people and when she needs something she hardly gets any help. I keep trying to encourage her to say no every once in a while, but it’s something she’s got to decide for herself I guess. It’s kind of frustrating to watch though because she gets so burnt out. I’ve hardly had a problem with saying no luckily, and while I am a yes on most things because I believe in opportunities, there are times when I know that I need to say no.


    • happydancecat
      Oct 09, 2011 @ 20:58:23

      Those situations are so hard, Brittany. Like so many things in life, sometimes we just have to learn the hard way. Even though everyone around us might see the logical solution to something, we just can’t see it. It’s good to hear you know the power of no as well as yes. Everything in moderation, right?


  10. Juliana Rowland
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 04:59:49

    I ALWAYS want to veg on the couch instead of going to that party…
    What does that say about me?


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