Why is it sometimes so hard for us to feel genuinely happy for other people in our lives when they achieve success or something really lovely or lucky happens for them?
Do we smile, but through gritted teeth?
How do we feel when we look at this photo, for example?
Do we smile along with the person in it?
Or think she might be showing off?
Or wonder if she wants to ‘rub it in’ that she can afford the money and the time to be where she is, having fun, and we can’t?
In my experience, envy or jealousy doesn’t happen every time – but sometimes it does…
And what does it say about us if we feel a twinge?
Does that mean that we’re a bad person?
Or does it just mean that we’re human?
Seeing someone else suffer does often make us feel better than seeing them succeed – we can be grateful we’re not them.
Hence the phenomenon known as Schadenfreude (you might like this video on the subject, by the way), slapstick comedy or the ‘funny’ video clips of people/animals falling over in a spectacular fashion that circulate on a regular basis.
Sometimes we can laugh at ourselves, too – and this can be healthy.
But we do tend to compare ourselves with others, and this can be in an unhealthy way – and fuelled by how we often talk or use social media to show only our ‘best bits’ and edit out anything less palatable, less successful, less ‘attractive’.
Someone else being happy, fortunate or successful can cause us to focus on what we lack, too, highlighting our own failures and shortcomings – see my previous blog: ‘Compare and Despair’.
Many of us grew up with the message that it’s not ‘nice or polite’ to brag or to show off and that feelings of jealousy or envy are ‘bad’ and unattractive and so are to be avoided, suppressed or unexpressed – so this all gets in the way.
There’s another impact, too – where sometimes we hold ourselves back from potential success, passing up on opportunities, so that we don’t invite the envy of our family, friends and colleagues.
This amounts to keeping our friends at a cost to our true selves.
I read an article recently by Temma Ehrenfeld in Psychology Today where this was just what some of the people were talking about.
I think Oscar Wilde summed it up really well:
“Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend,
but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success.”
As for me, I intend to cultivate my ‘finer nature’ but also to accept, embrace and love my own imperfect, less palatable, ‘shadow side’.
After all, it’s part of what makes me a human being and essential to my ability to recognise, empathise with, love and accept this part in other people, too.
How about you?