It’s hard to be happy when someone gets what you want
We all need to learn to be happy for other people’s success. That’s what they say. And it doesn’t sound too hard.
I, for one, considered myself quite accomplished at taking pleasure in other people’s achievements. I had the facial expressions and the requisite turns of phrase down pat. Then someone pretty close got something I really wanted. Within a second I realised I knew nothing about being happy for others people’s success.
Being happy that your colleague was able to go to their family reunion in Azerbaijan with four generations in attendance. Being happy for your best friend because the actuary she’s been dating for 10 years has finally proposed to her. Being happy for your cousin because he has been awarded a lucrative grant to study sea cucumbers in the Sea of China. This is not really being happy for someone else’s success. It is merely demonstrating that you’re not a pathological misanthrope.
To see how you cut it at being happy for someone else’s success, that success needs to be something in limited supply, and something that you wanted for yourself, bad.
Imagine watching your dream job or your dream lover being delivered into the hands of a good friend. Picture your colleague getting the promotion that you thought had your name written all over it, or being dropped from your team before the final.
How happy are you now at the success of others? Because this is the type of scenario where you can prove your mettle. Will you glide over the moral high jump, propelled by your benign sentiments? Or will you crash into the bar and end up in an ungainly tangle of turpitude.
But just before you order your hair shirt, let’s take another look at what’s being asked. “Be happy for other people’s success” when that success is something you particularly hankered after yourself – you’ve got to be flipping kidding.
This precept is neither fair nor reasonable. It needs a session in the gymnasium of pragmatism. We need to negotiate an outcome here between reality and morality. In this way we can identify what our real code of conduct ought to be when we see success sail over our heads and into someone else’s mitts.
Gore Vidal cut to the chase when he announced, “Each time one of my friends succeeds I die a little.” You don’t need to be happy while you’re dying a little.
When success sidelines you it’s enough to keep yourself nice. And if you can’t manage that just keep yourself scarce. Try treating disappointment like the common cold: shelter other people from what you’re carrying, isolate yourself as required, and contain the pain.
When you’re busy not feeling happy about another’s success you may find yourself called to the Grotto of Jealousy. That’s ok too. Provided you don’t try and take company, or dawdle too long. There is only so much to do in a grotto after all.
If concerned individuals work out that you are dying a little you may find yourself being told to “channel your negative emotions” and use them to “fuel the realisation of your own dreams”.
This advice will prove useful if you ever need to produce fridge magnets or induce vomiting. However, it does point in the direction of an important idea. Which is that of benign envy. In contrast to Snow White’s stepmother homicidal type malign envy, benign envy has been identified as a powerful and constructive motivating force.
So just before I leave the grotto, and wander back through the vale of envy, I’m going to skim some of the benign gear off the top and pop it in my tanks.
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