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.

Only one of these women is Beyonce… Picture: Simon Bullard

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.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST.

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29 comments

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    • flintstone chewable morphine says:

      05:56am | 13/09/12

      I pointed out a job I wanted - a permanent, well-paid job in a very prestigious institution - to an equally qualified friend at uni just before we graduated. We both applied, she got the interview and job offer. I was gutted, obviously, but it stings less knowing it’s someone who was just as good as you (and in her case, slightly better). It didn’t affect our friendship in the slightest and we’ve remained close since then.

      What probably soothed the sting was the fact that the longer she stays in her job, the more I feel I wouldn’t have fitted into the culture of the place and that the job I did get was far more enjoyable, flexible, and realistic in terms of my employers’ expectations. Five years out, and I am looking forward to longevity in my career, whereas she wants to be out in a few years.

      The experience has taught me to be careful of what I wish for, for sure.

    • acotrel says:

      06:24am | 13/09/12

      Marry the boss’s son !  Or better still get on with the boss. That should do the trick -  Your love trumps smartness and sneakiness any day.

    • TimB says:

      07:53am | 13/09/12

      The Acotrel method for getting ahead- Sleeping with the boss.

      An interesting insight into the morals of Acotrel.

    • acotrel says:

      08:29am | 13/09/12

      I’ve learned my lessons well !  I know how it all works. The two twins - nepotism and favoritism are always there in the background.  Sometimes a euphenism is used to disguise it - ‘mentoring’ ?

    • Bill says:

      08:38am | 13/09/12

      I didn’t know he had any.

    • TimB says:

      12:00pm | 13/09/12

      What Acotrel says: ‘I’ve learned my lessons well !  I know how it all works.’

      What Acotrel means: ‘I automatically assume everyone else is as morally bankrupt as myself that way I can excuse my own actions’.

    • M says:

      12:49pm | 13/09/12

      @acotrel 06:24am | 13/09/12

      <Marry the boss’s son !

      Would love to, but can’t; same sex marriage isn’t legal yet

      <better still get on with the boss.

      Nah, she’s a female..!

    • NESLIHAN KUROSAWA says:

      07:42am | 13/09/12

      Hi Amy,

      Being envious of other people’ s success, happiness, fame and fortune seems to be acceptable now and then, right?  However, being envious of others constantly must be the worst and tiring kind of feeling ever, personally speaking! It would get so draining mentally to always think that everyone else has a better deal ! So what does that say about our self confidence, self image and self esteem?  I would say that nothing much worth mentioning!

      Even though we are living our lives in a very competitive and demanding way, feelings of jealousy, hatred and envy are based on the primal instinct of fear.  Somehow I feel that when we are only concentrating on other people’s success and happiness stories, how can we have the chance to plan our own happiness and success stories?  And also the true meaning happiness differs from one person to another!  At the end of the day all it matters really is how we see ourselves rather than how we are seen by others.

      A helpful technique to combat all those negative feelings of envy and jealousy, is simply try to think of other people who may not be as fortunate as ourselves!  It does truly work and you do tend to feel richer and happier for all the things you already have, instead of feeling miserable about the ones you don’t seem to have!  Also trying to discover what we are good at and what would make us truly happy at the end of the day!  After that try to put all that good information to good use by applying that theory to our everyday lives. 

      Life is worth living with feelings of liking ourselves as well as making a difference to other’s lives no matter how small it may seem in the beginning.  Reaching emotional intelligence and maturity happen to be much more important than admiring the rest of the population endlessly, for no good reason at all.  Kind regards to your editors.

    • AndrewS says:

      11:55am | 13/09/12

      I am going to pass this on to a close friend of mine who succumbs to jealously of new mothers, as she is unable to have kids of her own.  Thank you very much, Neslihan.

    • Babylon says:

      03:08pm | 13/09/12

      Lefties are all about the ‘politics of envy’.

      ‘Oh I hate you you’ve earned more money than me, its not fair give me half’

      And of course there is the mysterious ‘Upper Class’ in Australia that conspires to economically enslave us all. They have everything and we have nothing. Vote Gillard Government and they will protect us from them and get you half of what they earned.

      We’ve almost had 6 years of Labor and they still haven’t vanquished the mythological evil upper class it seems.

    • Reverse Vampire says:

      04:10pm | 13/09/12

      Completely wrong, we’re not money grubbers like you, we see other aspects to life. Have a saucer of milk Baby- Lion!

    • Tubesteak says:

      08:01am | 13/09/12

      Unless it’s something in limited supply, such as Olympic gold medals or CEO jobs at a top 10 company, then there’s little reason to be disappointed. It’s not like them getting it precludes you from getting it, too.

    • Joan Bennett says:

      08:42am | 13/09/12

      Well said, NESLIHAN KUROSAWA.  There’s always someone better off and there’s always someone worse off.  In this country, in this day and age, there are many, many people who are way worse off than most Aussies.  When you think of it like that, any petty jealousies over stuff your friends got, that you didn’t, seem pretty silly…
      NESLIHAN KUROSAWA, your posts always stand out as they are so logically positive (if there is such a term!).

    • sunny says:

      08:50am | 13/09/12

      Had to laugh at that bit about the actuary. An actuary: someone who deals with the financial impact of risk and uncertainty, with a focus on complexity, mathematics, and other mechanisms. That’s why he was in no hurry to get married! smile

    • JamesH says:

      09:18am | 13/09/12

      The irony of society is that we are all acting as though we are entitled to 24 hour a day happiness and complete unimpeded pathways.  Young people are especially caught up in this idea and confuse material success with happiness.  Real happiness is elusive and comes from within.  Paths are necessarily strewn with obstacles and are rarely smooth, even those who have apparent ease in their lives don’t have as much as the average person believes.  Some of the happiest times in my life have been when I have been chasing a goal and focussed on getting to it, the actual attainment can feel anticlimactic.  As the Hopi people of the US Southwest put it, ‘truth lies in the journey, not the destination’.

    • Jeremy says:

      12:32pm | 13/09/12

      It’s got nothing to do with age. It’s why middle age men buy cars they can’t afford, or boats they never use. Women meet for coffee every single day with the same people to compare handbag or whose husband can buy a better holiday, and why they shove needles in there aging faces to plump there skin. No, the material search for happiness eludes not even the most ancient of pensioners. No matter what age you picked it up, it stays with most people. I’m glad I no so many people who never picked it up, but I know far more who did.
      p.s. I covet my DVD collection. I’m working on it.

    • Rose says:

      09:39am | 13/09/12

      I was tested on this very thing when, several years ago, I suffered a miscarriage. Within days of my miscarriage my sister in law announced her pregnancy, although she was told not to tell me about it as I would be upset. Anyway, I was told by someone else almost immediately and was thrilled for her, without question or reservation. When I was told that she was asked not to tell me I was horrified, I thought it said a lot more about those that wanted me ‘protected’ than it did about me.
      It is possible to separate your feelings, to be happy for one person but be sad or angry for yourself. Maybe it’s because some people feel that if life is good it’s because they are entitled to get whatever it is that they want. That’s wrong, life is good when you experience the highs and lows and still come out in one piece, mostly smiling.

    • Markus says:

      12:44pm | 13/09/12

      It’s fantastic you could take the news as well as you did, but I don’t really see what your sister in law did as horrifying, more being considerate in waiting to tell you after you’d had some time to come to terms with what you’d just gone through.

      I’d be more horrified by the person who went ahead and told you anyway, and also let you know she was asked specifically not to tell you just yet.

    • Rose says:

      01:57pm | 13/09/12

      My sister in law didn’t do anything, it was my mother in law who decreed that I was not to be told, another sister in law, well known for being completely incapable of keeping a secret told me.
      I suppose I was horrified because anybody who knows anything about me would know that I didn’t need protecting by not being told, and that, if anything, hearing that I was to get a new niece or nephew would bring some light into an otherwise dark time.

    • AndrewS says:

      12:00pm | 13/09/12

      Thanks for sharing, Rose. You are a better person than most. A friend of mine who cannot conceive is going through a tough time dealing with her little sister’s pregnancy. Any advice?

    • Cynicised says:

      12:21pm | 13/09/12

      Oh boohoo for you. Honestly, Amy, do you realise how childish you sound? Poor wittle me, I missed out and my fwend got what I wanted. Now I’m gunna go cwy in ve corner,  This is what you’re advising?

      Grow up and harden the fuck up. Have the grace to say “Well done, you” and mean it.  Manners and politeness exist for a reason. Do you not think that maybe the friend feels bad that you missed out?  It’s about making the other person, whom you supposedly care about, comfortable.  That’s friendship, that’s being adult.  Go after what you want full tilt after the disappointment, but in the meantime, wipe your nose and stop snivelling.

    • Jeremy says:

      12:40pm | 13/09/12

      Cynicism is a distrust bred from fear or ignorance. A strange thing to label yourself.
      Also, your remarks here are misplaced. You tell her to honestly mean what she says, as you attack her for being honest. Of course you would be upset or annoyed, if you didn’t you didn’t really want it. I’m skeptical to your claim that you’ve always, without fail, honestly and selflessly made those you care about feel ‘comfortable’ where you had cause to be hurt, pissed off or angry.

    • Cynicised says:

      01:21pm | 13/09/12

      I’m not going to bother explaining again re my nick, Jeremy. You must be new to the Punch.

      What I’m attacking is the childishness of the attitude that says because I missed out, I must make the other person feel bad. What I’m attacking is the total self-inviolvement of someone who forgets what friendship is when it suits them. What I’m attacking is selfishness. She can feel privately whatever she likes and snivel to her hearts content, of course. Towards her friend however, she needs to show a little courtesy, as the friend will no doubt do towards her. It’s called civilised, adult behaviour.

    • marley says:

      01:44pm | 13/09/12

      @cynicised - wow.  Are we reading the same article?  I don’t see anywhere where she thinks it’s a good idea to make the more successful friend feel badly.  Surely she’s saying that, while being envious is natural (and it is), you suck it up, congratulate your friend and use it to motivate yourself to push harder next time.  At the very least, you stay out of the way until you can be civilised about it all.

      I know I once lost out on a position I desperately wanted and thought I had in the bag.  The person that got it was a friend, though not a close one:  I congratulated him (while seething inside) and made sure I never said a negative thing about him or the assignment. And you know what?  The facade of acceptance and congratulations became reality.  I realised that he was as good a choice as I for the job, and had as much claim to it as I had had.  I just worked my butt off to get the next opening that came along.  And we stayed friends.  I think that’s pretty human, actually.

    • Cynicised says:

      05:19pm | 13/09/12

      Re-reading it, perhaps you’re right Marley and I misinterpreted her meaning, viz this para : “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.” I do think ,however,  just staying out of someone’s way who is supposedly a friend way when things don’t work out in your favour is the coward’s way out. Friendship should be about understanding and support. If you aren’t grown up enough to give that to your friend when he/she has had success you wanted, especially of they can offer it to you, perhaps you aren’t as grown up as you think.  Being adult is about overcoming childish, although very human, reactions.  ( You being grammatical here - not you specifically.)

    • Kika says:

      02:01pm | 13/09/12

      Nothing speaks this more than when a woman announces her pregnancy in front of other women without kids and want them, badly. Sure, the congratulations go around but I can guarantee she’s gritting her teeth on the inside bitterly angry and frustated that the good news wasn’t hers. I guarantee it! Same goes for engagements and etc.

    • sami says:

      02:57pm | 13/09/12

      I’m so glad I have simple wants/needs and have pretty much everything I’m after in life. This jealousy has never happened to me and I can’t imagine it happening. With no desire for a high flying career, kids or sporting achievements I’m usually always a cheery person. If someone achieves something they’ve wanted I am stoked for them! When my friends and family are happy I’m happy :D
      So I guess the secret is to not want for much. Easier said than done sometimes I know… but there you go.

    • John says:

      04:22pm | 13/09/12

      Wow, It sure does ring true that it takes allsorts to make this world go round. Being human means have a full range of emotions and knowing that this is ordained by DNA/evolution etc…being adult is knowing that running a balance in all things is not as easy as those who decree you should. How could art and progress exist without the full gamut of emotions being expressed.  How rich are we to know this and how poor are we to be held captive to our ‘suffering’.  Envy, like any feeling is not dysfunctional until we make it so. Love is not dysfunctional until there is a crime of passion etc.  Celebrate life and teach others that it is ok to feel but not ok to hurt others by actions you know will. A friend once said to me jokingly she had crepe envy when my order arrived; she had dismissed it and ordered something else.  We laughed.

    • Alfie says:

      05:09pm | 13/09/12

      Gen-Y have very simple aspirations - they want everything, now.

 

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