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Buddhist Study

People-Pleasing at Its Best 

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Every relationship went the same way. Family, girlfriends, homies—I drained my energy to appease their needs,” said an SGI-USA member in his mid-30s, reflecting on his younger years of feeling trapped in a cycle. “People took advantage of me; I wouldn’t speak up for myself. Typical people pleaser.” 

People pleaser describes those inclined to please others, even at their own expense. 

Various discussions on people-pleasing highlight its negative impacts, namely low self-esteem and neglecting one’s health and responsibilities.[2] A popular self-help-guide solution: Focus on yourself and forget about others. 

For a time, this member agreed. “I realized I couldn’t stand up for myself, so I tried to cut people off and just do me. When I started doing that, I finally felt in control,” he said. “But before long, my life seemed like it was…shrinking. I stopped progressing and felt stuck. When I focused only on myself, my anxiety and depression were at their worst.”

People-pleasing to the extent of self-sacrifice reflects one extreme while focusing only on self-interest reflects another. Both are selfish—the first indicating a need for approval and the second focusing on self-serving ends. 

Nichiren Buddhism teaches that pursuing such extremes leads to suffering and suggests an alternative solution: transcend extremes and strike a dynamic balance of living for oneself and others. 

Buddhism can trace its origins to Shakyamuni Buddha’s firsthand experience of breaking free from extremes. Born a prince, he enjoyed every luxury. But, dissatisfied with fleeting pleasures, he abandoned his royal status to find a means to alleviate people’s suffering. He pursued popular practices of severe self-discipline, including total fasting and breath suspension. Eventually, he abandoned them, perceiving their futility in his search to relieve the suffering of all people. 

By rejecting self-indulgence and self-mortification, he awakened to the true nature of life. He perceived the interconnectedness of all life at the most fundamental level and that each life is precious and mutually supportive of all others.[3] He understood that this truth, underpinned by a universal and eternal Law, could guide all living beings to overcome suffering. 

From this perspective, the “self” can be understood in the larger context of our connections with others. Our “lesser self” can perceive only fragments of life’s truth. It is easily influenced by circumstances and desires that bring suffering. In contrast, our “greater self,” which we tap by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo (the universal Law of life), is aware and appreciative of our connections with others. It moves us to take compassionate action. Striving to live based on the greater self allows us to overcome the trappings of the lesser self. 

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi spoke of three levels of life and, as Ikeda Sensei explains, urged us “to build a network of awakened individuals, of people who had elevated themselves from dependence to independence and, finally, contribution to others—a level where they could take action to their hearts’ content and shine their brightest.”[4]

Pleasing others, then, is not out of line with Buddhism. In view of life’s interconnectedness, compassionately supporting others nurtures bonds that benefit us and those we support. The courage to lead someone to happiness, even if they initially reject or criticize us, eventually leads to true contentment for all involved. 

In “The Sun of Jiyu Over a New Land,” Sensei sums it up: “People can only live fully by helping others to live.” And he continues:

Now is the time for you to realize
that through relations
mutually inspiring and harmonious,
the greater self is awakened to dynamic action,
the bonds of life are restored and healed.[5]

The once-conflicted member learned this dynamic approach through practicing Buddhism and resolved his people-pleasing dilemma. 

“Despite my anxiety,” he said, “every single time I reached out to a friend, I started to feel better. My life opened up, expanding to include others in my self-care. I awakened to a sense of mission to live with hope and courage, to spread it. That gives me confidence; it repurposes my people-pleasing into my greatest strength.”

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

April 12, 2024, World Tribune, p. 11


  1. “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 376. ↩︎
  2. See <accessed on April 2, 2024>. ↩︎
  3. See The Living Buddha: An Interpretive Biography, pp. 45–68. ↩︎
  4. The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 2, revised edition, p. 112. ↩︎
  5. My Dear Friends in America, fourth edition, p. 218. ↩︎

The Wisdom to Listen

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