It took me a long time to realize that to accept and respect — yourself and others — is the key to a happy life. In going around the country speaking about bullying, it dawned on me that the answer to bullying and many of society’s other ills really come down those two simple things.
Having been bullied myself, I didn’t have enough self-respect to counter the taunts of the bullies at my school by walking away feeling good about myself in spite of their insults. And I didn’t accept myself to be okay enough with who I was to withstand their insults. Once you accept yourself for who you are, being called “gay,” if you are gay, has no power. You can shrug it off with, “Yeah, so?” And if we could stop calling people “gay,” “retard,” and a host of other words that should only be used in the proper context, those words would cease to be insults.
If bullies had enough self-respect, they wouldn’t have to try to belittle others to make themselves feel better. Which of course is a short-lived plan anyway: you still have to go home with yourself and if you don’t like you, there is no chance of escape. If the bullies accepted their place in the world, they wouldn’t have to step on others to try to go higher in life. That’s not to say you shouldn’t strive to excel in whatever you do, but doing it at the expense of others is not a good path in the long run—you only get ahead so far before the resentment of others holds you back.
Too many people pursue money as though it is happiness. The 75-year study recently released by Harvard proved what a lot of people suspected for a long time: it’s love that equals happiness.
If you accept and respect yourself, you will not let your shoes, car, or zip code dictate your sense of self-worth. I know lots of very wealthy people who are also very happy. But their happiness derives from what they do for others: volunteer work, donating to charity — things other than playing polo and drinking champagne. The rich people I know who just live the life of luxury tend to be unhappy, often drowning their unhappiness with self-medication.
For example, Betty White doesn’t need the money. She continues to work because she loves it. You don’t have time to belittle others or look down on others when you’re on your own path to the top—whatever the top is for you.
People and connections matter most. People will remember the time you spent with them more than the gifts you give them. If you fully accept yourself, you can accept others and not be threatened by the color of their hair, tattoos, or skin. You know the bookmark philosophy of “The great thing about smiles is that no matter how many you give away, you still can keep one yourself”? The same is true of respect: respect yourself and you’ll have respect left over for others—there is an unlimited supply.