Until recently, I was working on a PhD in late modernist literature in Paris. That means a lot of very depressing existentialist literature — and that means Jean-Paul Sartre, who coined the phrase “Hell is other people.”
I now live in London, land of packed tube trains and drizzly crowded commutes, so you’d think I’d be completely behind that statement. Until a couple of years ago, I was. You see, I was pretty miserable, in my own way.
I was unhappy with myself, and unhappy with my life. As a result, I blamed other people. It was other people that had caused me to want to stay home all the time. It was other people who made me turn to food for comfort, and it was other people who made it too difficult for me to overcome my past failures and current pain.
It’s easy to blame other people. It’s not so easy to figure out how they can help.
I’d never been inclined to admit my weaknesses properly, or to really open myself up to others, and as a result, I was lonely. I’d formed a view of the world that meant I was cynical, not just about people’s motivation for doing things, but about my own. I made some bad choices, and I lost some good friends along the way, because to me, everyone was out for themselves.
I was disabled and bitter about it. I didn’t know who to blame, and I didn’t know how to fix my life as it was, so I retreated into myself for a long, long time.
Two years later, however, my life is completely different. In an unexpected turn of events, I have a health blog. I practice yoga. And there’s 140 pounds less of me than there was before. But the main thing I’ve learned from all of this is that other people are a greater source of happiness than I’d ever thought possible.
I receive emails and messages from amazing people every single day — people who, somehow, find what I do helpful. That’s something I can’t even begin to process. I don’t think they realize the effect it has on my day when they hit "send" on an email, but seriously: I will be eternally grateful.
It strikes me that the moment this all changed was the moment I made myself most vulnerable. When I shared my own failings, my own weaknesses, from my psychological flaws down to my stretch marks, people didn’t ridicule me or tell me I was a bad person. Instead, they opened themselves up and shared their experiences with me.
And between us, we’re stronger.
It’s been a revelation to me that people are amazing, and one I wish I’d realized sooner. I never, ever guessed I’d find this kind of faith in the goodness, the kindness, and the ability to care deeply for a complete stranger that I’ve seen in the last couple of years. I’m floored by it every single day.
So if you’re a misanthrope, like I was: give weakness a chance. Be vulnerable. Share.
Because people will surprise and amaze you far more than you realize. In the end, I promise you’ll be happier, stronger, and better for it.