To People Please or Not? Oprah vs Einstein

Here we have two quotes about the importance we should give other people in life. Unfortunately, they’re in apparent conflict with each other:

Don’t live your life to please other people. Oprah Winfrey


Only a life lived for others is worth living. – Albert Einstein

Which one of these attitudes should we unknow?

1. Not being a people pleaser

“Don’t live your life to please other people” might as well be one of the foundational ideas of western civilization. It has a lot going for it; living for other people’s acceptance, validation, admiration or approval is guaranteed to bring us distress:

  • We will never please everyone since different people have different values. Pleasing one set of people automatically means displeasing others.
  • We won’t even be able to please just one person all the time, since people’s needs and desires change over the years.
  • People-pleasing is strangely selfish. Our need to please others is really about us: our need to be liked and validated and to protect ourselves from conflict. If it were really for the good of other people, we’d tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.

So those who people-please can effectively say good-bye to their peace of mind.

Verdict: This idea is a keeper. It should not be unknown.

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2. Living Life for Others

On the other hand, if we are self-absorbed and put our own needs ahead of everyone else’s all the time, we’re also sure to cause distress. Others’ distress, true, but their misery will eventually affect us – no man is an island.

The problem with living a life solely focused on yourself and your desires is that, sooner or later, it starts feeling a bit empty and meaningless. Numerous studies have shown that we’re happier and more fulfilled when we feel like we’re contributing to the greater good and have a purpose that is outside of ourselves.

Verdict: This idea is a keeper too. It should not be unknown.

How to Reconcile Both Attitudes

It’s possible to harmonize these two seeming contradictions.

We must live to contribute to the well-being of those around us. We must add value to their lives whenever we can. But we should not attach our self-worth to what those same people think of us – it must come from within. It must come from knowing we have value just for being us and doing what we do.

This can be a hard balance to achieve. We need to take a good long look at our own tendencies to see what we need to work on:

  • “Don’t people please” is the advice we need to take to focus on if we often act like a doormat. We should never let people walk all over us for any reason.
  • However, if we know we tend to be self-centered in our actions, then we need to consciously focus on becoming a more helpful person. It is only when we get out of our self-absorption that we begin to see that life can be a lot more meaningful than we had imagined.  

So what we should unknow then, is our tendency to keep doing what we have always done. Personal growth and maturity often come from doing the opposite of what we’ve been taught to do, so that we learn how to balance our more extreme tendencies.