Happy or Jealous, that is the question
How do we stamp out envy so that we can be genuinely happy for the success of others?
To answer this, we need to consider the context and levers of each of these emotions. Let’s start with envy, or jealousy as we more commonly know it.
Envy is one of the seven “deadly sins”, and perhaps for good reason as it tends to bring out a dark side that lives deep within each of us. What’s more jealously is something that we rarely admit to feeling. That is, of course, unless someone else is also envious and then this toxic coupling tends to feed both individuals. Where does envy originate? It is a feeling that historically ensured the survival of the species. To illustrate, if we were living in cave days and saw someone thriving in food or material collections, we may defer to the individual envied, eliminate them as a threat, or find a way to acquire the desired skill.
Times have both changed yet remained remarkably similar in many ways. Today this situation tends to manifest itself during social comparison, or competition, between us and others. In essence, the performance of others is often an input into our self-assessment. In that moment we seek to determine how we are performing, relatively speaking.
Jealousy is not exactly what one wants to aspire to. So, how do we pull ourselves into a more positive space? Being happy for the success of others is about managing our mindset and, at times, our insecurities.
The success of others – is that the key to being happy?
Studies show that our own happiness is significantly tied to the generosity and kindness we show to other people. The research shows that giving our time to someone in need, or simply choosing a mindset that puts others’ happiness above our own, has a positive impact on our well-being.
Researchers found that efforts to make another person happy promote a feeling of closeness which helps to explain why we end up feeling happy ourselves. Unfortunately the same reasoning does not work when attempts at happiness are self-directed.
So, clearly, there are real benefits to us when we are happy for the success of others, but how do we change the default thinking of quiet envy that we sometimes experience?
A mindset of being happy for the success of others
Let me preface these steps by acknowledging that no one is entirely self-made. We all depend on and benefit from having other people in our lives. You may be thinking, and this knowledge helps me how?
It is the secret to changing one’s mindset.
Let me use an example of someone getting a promotion or a job offer for a great role in another company. We can quietly think about how we helped them improve their CV, practice for interviews, provided feedback on their “soft skills”, or shared ideas for a report they were preparing.
Rather than thinking of someone else’s success as competition to ours, we reframe it as their success is also ours. For instance, we refocus the urge to make it all about us and focus instead on how we contributed to the success of that person.
In this approach, we don’t have to deal with our own insecurities at their success, we are able to focus on giving a heartfelt congratulations. To the other person, this comes across as genuine excitement for their success….and in us, it is genuine joy for them.
Note this is all done quietly because if we verbalize any attempt to take credit, we will come across as jealous or insecure. This, as you’d expect, is not a career winning move for anyone! The secret then lies in doing all of our thinking inside our heads and not expressing it aloud. Give it a go, you might surprise yourself at how well this approach works!
So, by changing the way, we think about the success of others and secretly owning a tiny bit of it, we create a win-win. We let go of our “pettiness”, and the person sharing their good news gets a genuinely happy reaction to their success. The additional benefits we get for our own psychological well-being are priceless!
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Give it a try!
Cartoon credit: Scott Adams