If you Want to be Happy, Don’t Take Anything Personally

this story belongs to "top 10 most loved" in my first year bloging. click below to listen to my reading

I have this goody friend who always seems to try her best to treat everyone nicely. One day she told me she needed some advice, so we went out for a chat. Soon after we sat down at the cafe table, she began to share. Even though her voice as usual was gentle, I could hear in it some distress:

“I'm too sensitive! That's my problem! Like other day a friend suddenly stopped talking to me, even though she had been very happy about me. I called her and she sounded cold. This made me anxious! And then I kept asking myself what I did wrong, but couldn't find anything. You see, stuff like that brings me down for a couple days.”

"I know very well that I should not suffer from these tiny matters. But I can't help it. What should I do to become more emotionally stable?"

But I can tell, being sensitive isn't her problem. Her problem is that she takes everything personally. So I said:

"Your problem, my dear, is that you take everything personally. This is probably the fastest and easiest way to make your life miserable. "

I know how it feels to take things personally. For a long time I had made myself suffer for the same reason. Let's me tell you some stories.


August 2014 I came back to Hanoi and started living again with my parents. After 2 years of living alone in another city and abroad, it wasn’t easy at all. One evening, when I was cooking, my mother came home from work. She was in a bad mood. She scolded me for the food I did, the way I arranged the table, the dirty dishes in the sink.

At first, I didn’t understand why. What have I done? How can you say this? Hurt, offended, defensive, I said: "So here, you can cook yourself!" Her anger just needed this sentence to burst. She said something hurtful that I don't even remember. I went to my room, and cried, and cursed myself for having come back to this damn place where I'd never felt I belong to.     

Later I understood that my mother had a tough day at work. She was dealing with her own suffering. She needed a place to release, and I happened to be there. If I’d truly listened, I would’ve understood what she really said: “Give me some attention! I am so lonely and afraid!” If I’d been more sensitive, I would’ve ignored what she said; I would've given her a hug and whisper: “How was your day, mom?”


You see. Nothing people do is because of you. People do things because of themselves. Each of us lives in our own world. Our words and our deeds are simply the fruits of the trees planted in our own minds. So what I do to you isn’t because of you. It is because of me. My father has a habit of turning on the TV as soon as he arrives home. They are all the same every day. I don't need to watch in order to know that one country is in conflict with another country; there are some murder, some scandal, corruption, threat of war, threat of terrorism, natural catastrophes due to climate change.

To me, the news is pretty useless. So I began to turn it off whenever I had the chance. This didn’t please him. He scorned me with some disdain in his eyes: “Even though you’ve traveled well, you know nothing of real world. This life is a jungle! Now you go and give nice speeches. Enter the workforce and you will be eaten alive. I’ll let life teach you.” Worrying that I didn't quite get what he said, he continue to criticize me every dinner. I watched the bowl of rice, slowly swallowed my food, listening to dad's voice, on the background: TV playing news about ISIS outraging in Syria.


One evening, I broke down. Tears in my eyes, I said to my boyfriend:

“I can’t stand this. My dad and all his negative energy!”

“He makes me feel that I am worthless and that I can never change anything. And that young people have no power at all!”

“Did he say that?” Rapha asked.

“… No,” I paused, “… He didn’t explicitly said. I just interpreted it that way.”

At that moment I understood that it wasn’t his words that hurt me. I already had a wound that his words happened to touch. It was me, or better : it was my fearful ego, that was desperate about terrible things happening around the world. It was me, overwhelmed by the onslaught of bad news, doubted whether my advocacy for youth development could mean anything. Somewhere in my subconscious, I doubted the very thing that I stood for.

There is a saying “people hurt you because you let them to”, I’d known it for a long time, but only in that moment did I finally understand. So you may tell me “Milena, my friend is hurting me!” But it is not your friend who hurt you. You are hurting yourself. It doesn’t have to be this way.


This is a profound realization. Whatever people say to you, don’t take it personally. One day, they are happy; and in their eye you look like an apple. The next day, they are unhappy; and you look like a spoiled bitter melon. But whether they see apple for bitter melon isn't your problem.

You are you, independent beautiful unique you. Your worth does not depend on anything or anyone. You don't have to be a bitter melon, or even an apple. Be a pineapple, be a banana, be a coconut, be whatever you want to be.


You may wonder:

- What if what people said is true? How do we improve when we ignore all the criticism?

Everything people say is their own truth. When someone says “you look ugly!” it is her truth. But it is your choice whether to accept this truth as yours. One thing I’ve learned is that true truths can not ultimately hurt. When you pay attention you will know when someone do something out of love or out of fear. The later is the hurtful one. If certain people treat you badly, it’s a blessing that they walk away from your life or you walk away from theirs; not by moving to another country, but by stop taking everything personally.

- Why so skeptical? Isn't trust important in life?

I don’t take your opinion of me personally not because I don’t trust you. I don’t take your opinion personally because I know that you live in your own world. If I take your praise personally, I will also take your blame personally. When I’m hurt by your blame, I will hurt you back, like what I did to my mother, instead of helping you. And that will be very selfish of me.

- Why  shouldn’t we feel happy when people treat us nicely?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t. We should show appreciation. And we should be very happy, for the right reason. When a person gives you an encouraging words, be happy for that person; because this means that she is happy inside. Besides, you don't need other's compliments to be happy. True happiness must come from within you. Once I was asked: “Why do you seem so happy all the time?” I replied “Because I choose to.”


There is tremendous freedom coming from not taking anything personally.


This freedom will change your work. You begin to work for the sheer joy of it. Your effort will not depend on how popular you are. As a young artist, this is the reason why I can hang on to writing and drawing and all the things I'm doing now. If Albert Einstein had taken what his professors said personally, he wouldn’t have had brought in the modern age. Don’t let anyone budge you away from your passion!

This freedom will also change your daily life. When you stop taking things personally, you still stop seeing others as threats. You will stop fighting for your survival. People will not have to defend themselves against your defensive energy. And we can all be delightful together.

With this new found freedom; you can walk down the street exposing much of yourself; you can sing and dance in the crowd; you can say “I love you”; you can take off your social masks and show others your bare naked skin with all its scars and freckles, waiting to be kissed by the sunlight.