Why Can't You Be Happy For Me?
It's an overused phrase in many romantic comedies and dramas alike. You've all seen the scene: one friend meets the other for brunch, barely touches her food, declares that she doesn't support her friend's recent choices and the other friend blurts out something to the effect of: "why can't you just be happy for me?" Perhaps it's cliche', but the sentiment warrants some exploration.
I've noticed in the last few years people who just can't seem to be happy for others. I'm someone that gets genuine pleasure from seeing other people shine. I like to see people fall in love and get married and have kids. I love it when someone meets a wellness goal or hits a professional milestone. I feel inspired when someone achieves something they have been working hard to achieve. But I know there are some people that just can't do it.
I attended a wedding once with my husband and sat with a group of people I didn't know that well. One of the guys we sat with leaned over to my husband and said, "check out how many of the bridesmaids scowl as soon as the bride comes down the aisle." And he was right. In fact, one of them fake-fainted and the attention shifted to her for a brief fabricated moment. Throughout the rest of the ceremony, only 1 of the bridesmaids smiled while the others just looked on without emotion. I've seen that look before...A few years ago, I was sitting around a table at a friend's graduation party when one of the graduate's family members launched into an uncomfortable diatribe about how if she had been in the graduate's place she would have done it differently and blah blah blah.
These are two extreme situations, but I'm sure you've noticed others. A friend who has been unlucky in love turns her nose up at her friend's new beau for no good reason. The news of a new baby causes a friend without children to roll her eyes or be disinterested. A newly married man's otherwise normal outing with the fellas turns into an overblown discussion about the downside of marriage. I see it more than I am comfortable with, and quite frankly I don't know that people do it consciously.
Let me pause here and say that there are also perfectly reasonable reasons to not be happy for someone. And it's less about not being happy than it is about being concerned. For instance - it's OK to not like your friend's new partner if the relationship is unhealthy. You don't have to celebrate a friend's new "hobby" when it happens to be something damaging to their health or well being. You may not feel overly celebratory about your friend's recent home purchase when you know he is going to be 100% house broke and struggle to make other ends meet. Those kinds of situations are not the topic of today's lesson boys and girls...but I digress...
So why can't people just naturally be happy for others and celebrate with them when something good happens? It's simple - people often get distracted with self-interest. Put another way - people focus so much on how someone else's success, happiness or joy makes them feel about their own stuff. A friend gets a promotion: you haven't gotten a raise in years. A friend gets her book published: you haven't written a chapter. A friend celebrates a milestone marriage: you can't stand your man.
It's interesting how someone else's success can sometimes feel like that person is holding a mirror up to your face and the reflection in the mirror is saying, "what's so great about you?". The thing about it is that the mirror isn't the problem - it's the perspective used when looking at what's being reflected.
Let me unpack this: I admit, there are times when a friend's good news causes me to feel something else other than joy. But let's be clear: that "something else" is certainly NOT jealousy. In fact, I can't say I have ever felt jealous of someone (other than maybe Ashley Graham because...she's a goddess and she's #bodygoals). But no - it's not jealousy. It's hunger. Hunger for what's to come in my own life.
I've heard it said before that the best indicator of your own success is how successful the people around you are. Said another way - you may not be able to appreciate what's to come until you see what has become for someone else. To drive the point home (and because it's one of my favorite expressions ever), you can't see it until you see it.
So what if instead of being mean girls and boys about others' success, accomplishments and joys, we simply celebrated. And not just for them - because you should be happy for others - but for yourself too because to witness it is to recognize that it can also happen for you...
Photo credit: Vero Photoart