I’m going to reveal an unflattering truth about myself in the hopes you’ve experienced the same thing and thus won’t judge me.
When people tell me their good news or great fortune, I’m happy for them—on the surface. Internally, I’m focused on what their good news means for me. When my friend scored an awesome summer position, I was annoyed because I still had no plans. When a co-worker received rave reviews from our boss, I was jealous and resentful, thinking I deserved just as much praise.
I’m not proud of this selfish side. And I suspect I’m not the only one who has it (and wants to change it).
Luckily for us, my friend Lindsey has mastered the art of being happy for other people, and she told me how she does it. Instead of thinking how someone else’s success competes with hers, she focuses on how it is also hers. In other words, Lindsey takes that urge to make it all about her and makes it positive.
For example, when I told her I’d published an article in a prestigious magazine, she remembered all the times she’d given me feedback on my work or helped me choose topics. She reflected on the days I’d been stressed about hunting down sources and she’d patiently listened to me. She even thought about the times she helped me pick out what to wear to interview people.
“I knew you couldn’t have accomplished what you did without me, so I got to feel proud, too,” she said.
Not that she said any of this to me—she just gave me heartfelt congratulations—but by thinking about all this to herself, her excitement felt more genuine and she didn’t have to deal with her jealous side.
Lindsey’s strategy is especially helpful in the professional world where it can feel like your colleagues’ successes come at the expense of your own. Defeat this thinking by coming up with ways you’ve helped them, say, score that promotion or impress the higher-ups—did you give her feedback on a project? Help him placate an angry client? Maybe you never help her professionally, but you frequently talk about her personal life while you eat lunch together, giving her a respite from working that re-energizes her when she gets back to her desks.
It’s impossible to find anyone who’s entirely self-made—we all rely on and benefit from the presence of other people.
Before Lindsey told me her trick, I was probably 75% happy for other people and 25% jealous. Secretly owning a little bit of their success, however, has made that ratio 95% and 5%. It’s a win-win: I don’t feel bad for my pettiness, and the person who’s told me his or her good news get a super enthusiastic, genuine reaction.