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How often have you heard that something great has happened to someone else, and instead of being happy for them, your instant response was jealousy?
Or maybe even anger that they received or experienced something with ease while you’ve been just scraping by?
That’s absolutely normal and understandable. If you’re going through a difficult period, finding out that something awesome is happening for someone else can be a kick to the gut when you’re already down.
Of course, if a good thing is happening to someone you love, it’ll be hurtful—even devastating—to them if they try to share their joy with you only to get a lukewarm or negative reaction.
But how can you be happy for others when your own life is swirling down the drain? Or if their happiness reminds you of your own grief?
Why can’t I be happy for others?
There are many different reasons why you might not be able to feel happiness for others. These can include past traumas, current difficulties, and resentment toward that person for things they’ve done to you, just to name a few.
Below are some of the reasons why you might not be able to feel real happiness for others at the moment.
You just don’t feel it right now.
The simplest reason as to why you can’t be happy for others is that something is preventing you from being able to feel that kind of emotion. Maybe you’ve numbed out to get through something difficult, or you’re dealing with your own inner demons and turmoil.
If you can’t feel something right now because of life circumstances, or even because you aren’t in the headspace to feel much of anything, then you can’t draw blood from a stone, so to speak.
Have you ever tried to figure out what you want for dinner, and you felt “meh” about the options? Maybe you weren’t feeling pizza, but you tried to eat it anyway because it was food, but you had zero appetite for it?
Emotions are much the same. If you’re not feeling it, you can’t force it.
Their good fortune feels like salt rubbed in a wound.
If you’re not in a great place right now, other people’s joy or success may be driving home the fact that you don’t have what they do at the moment.
It’s hard to feel happy for other people when every day is a struggle, and their good fortune might make you hurt even more than you already do.
For example, if you’ve been unemployed for a while and are getting stressed out looking for work amidst dwindling savings, it would be difficult to feel happy for a friend who’s going on an all-expenses-paid 6-month vacation thanks to their dream job.
Similarly, it can be hard to react positively when your friend has bought an amazing new piece of gym equipment that you’ve always dreamed of owning and you’re unable to exercise because you’re nursing an injury.
This yearning for what cannot be can apply to material possessions, romantic relationships, families/children, health, strength, and just about everything else you can think of.
When people you know are able to have things that you absolutely ache for but can’t have—for one reason or another—that can hurt far more than not having them to begin with.
The person you’re supposed to be happy for hurt you badly.
Let’s say you had an intense romantic relationship with someone. You loved this person with all your heart, and they did something that shook you to your core. Maybe they cheated on you, or broke things off badly, causing damage that’s taken a long time for you to heal from.
You may still be healing from it, actually. Some hurts take longer to heal than others and can still cause twinges when poked at.
So maybe you’ve found out that this ex of yours is getting married to the “love of their life.” Or perhaps they’re expecting a child. Everyone around you is going on about how happy they are for the person who ripped your guts out. And now there’s an expectation for you to express similar joy and support for them too.
Why is that? There might be an assumption that because you two once had a strong connection, deep down you want them to be happy. After all, the awful stuff they put you through is in the past, so you should simply “get over it and be happy for them.”
That’s an unfair expectation that invalidates your experience and your own feelings. Furthermore, it implies that people expect performative behavior from you rather than acknowledging and respecting the truth of your emotions.
Go within and explore how you genuinely feel.
- Do you truly want to be happy for your ex? Or do you feel obligated to feel happy for them?
- Did this person treat you badly?
- Are you still harboring pent-up bitterness or frustration at their past behaviors, whether those are perceived or validated?
- Do you ever hope that this person will receive a sort of comeuppance for how they treated you?
- Does your inability to feel happiness from them come from resentment that they’re experiencing these things with someone else, rather than with you?
As you can imagine, this can apply to any person who’s hurt or betrayed you—not just an ex-partner. It could be a sibling who treated you like crap but now has a life that you’ve always wanted. Or a parent who abandoned you and is now happy with their new “start over” family.
If you’re feeling hurt or betrayed, forcing yourself to feel happiness toward them is going to lengthen your own healing process. Furthermore, covering truth with lies is neither a healthy nor authentic way of living.
I‘m not suggesting you go “Punisher” on them, nor that you wish any ill fate upon them. Rather, aim for stoicism. Play it cool, polite, and distant.
Others are demanding a specific emotional response from you.
When and if you’ve been getting messages that you have to be happy for someone else, take a look around and determine where this demand is coming from. Then you can try to unpack why they want you to feel that way.
As an example, let’s say that you have a sibling whom your parents favor. Maybe you got into a great college that your parents refused to pay for, so you ended up having to work instead. Then your sibling got into college and your parents paid all their expenses. If you expressed upset at the lack of fairness, your parents might have berated you for being unkind toward said sibling, and that you “should be happy for them instead of feeling bitter.”
In a case such as this, your parents know full well that they’ve been awful. They’re aware that they’ve given preferential treatment to one over the other, but they don’t want to take responsibility for their terrible behavior. As a result, they try to turn the tables so the person they’ve mistreated becomes the bad guy when they aren’t happy for their sibling.
This is basically gaslighting the one who’s hurt by implying that their reaction to being abused is what’s wrong, rather than the abuse itself.
People want good vibes only.
There seems to be an expectation nowadays that anyone who expresses what may be construed as “negative” emotions—like disappointment, hurt, anger, or betrayal—is somehow not as evolved or woke as those who insist on being positive all the time. That if you feel any of these “lower frequency” emotions, then you must be the problem, rather than whatever is causing those feelings.
You may be expected to be unconditionally loving and supportive toward people who treat you like sh*t, simply because that’s the enlightened thing to do.
As an added bonus, if everyone blindly adheres to the “good vibes only” mantra, then nobody will have to deal with icky, unwanted situations like confrontation, or being held accountable for their awful actions.
And if they do get confronted about them, they can claim they’re being triggered and go hide from the situation, while the one doing the confrontation will be condemned for being aggressive and bringing the vibe down.
Both myself and my partner have spent time within the festival circuits, hanging out with many people who claim to be of a high spiritual practice, and yet condemn those who disagree with their personal preferences and behaviors as “toxic.”
In some cases, the person might have a spiritual practice that they consider to be higher and holier than someone else’s. And for others, it might be a lifestyle choice such as polyamory or nomadism. Either way, they expect people to be unconditionally supportive and happy for them, and if they aren’t—or if they have questions or concerns—then they’re being “toxic” or “unenlightened.”
This type of behavior is a form of spiritual elitism; basically “othering.” In reality, it’s no different from people who might be racist toward those of different ethnic backgrounds, or who refuse to spend time with those who follow other faiths.
Look for those who steadfastly uphold their principles regardless of creed, and yet seek common ground with others. They’ll be the ones who are worth cultivating long-term, trusting relationships with.
All your instincts point to “no.”
Sometimes, if you can’t drum up a particular emotion for someone, it’s because something inside you is telling you not to. Like if you’re attracted to a person at a distance, but once you start talking, all the warning bells start going off.
If I sprain my ankle, a pain response happens to let me know that there’s something wrong within my body. Similarly, an emotional response (or lack thereof) is a pretty solid indicator that there’s something you need to pay attention to here.
Rather than focusing on a preferred mode of feeling, perhaps analyze the feelings you do have instead. If you’re not happy for someone because you feel a wave of concern or worry for them, check in with yourself to see if that’s a valid response, or if it’s jealousy. If you find that the concerning feeling persists, then maybe do some digging as to why.
How to be happy for someone when you’re jealous.
We really do recommend that you seek professional help from one of the therapists at BetterHelp.com as professional therapy can be highly effective in helping you to work through the things that prevent you from being happy for others.
Have you ever tried to fake a “happy” reaction when someone told you something that actually made you feel insanely envious? If you have, then you’ve likely ended up looking like Chrissy Teigen at the Golden Globes:
But there are things you can do to both express positive sentiments for them in a believable way and even to feel happy about what they have done or experienced or received. Here are some tips:
1. Explore your jealousy and fake a bit of happiness.
Examine why it is you feel jealous, and try to pull back and see the bigger picture. Think about all the times you felt jealous in the past when someone else got what you wanted. How did things play out in the long run? Quite often, what you once wanted more than anything else becomes pretty inconsequential after a while.
That item, that lover, that job… some of the things we thought would make our lives perfect at the time ended up being more like a weight than a blessing.
You don’t have to feel genuine happiness for someone if you’re jealous, but sometimes you simply have to fake it for the sake of continued harmony. Smile, give that person a hug or a handshake, and tell them that you’re happy for them through gritted teeth.
If you’re anything like me, this will almost be physically painful. Then excuse yourself as quickly as possible and go take some much-needed time to yourself.
2. Make your affection for the individual the keystone.
One effective technique is to remember the person behind the item or achievement.
If you get a wave of jealousy when you hear (or see) that someone else is getting or experiencing something you’re aching to have, try to see past the thing to the person behind it.
Remember their struggles and how much difficulty they’ve had up until now. Have they been dealing with depression? Or loss? What has their life been like up until now? Have they overcome immense obstacles in order to get where they are now?
Additionally, how has this person been to you over the years? Have they been a kind and supportive friend? A loving family member? What has their energy been like toward you as a whole?
If this person has been genuinely good to you in the past, then make that your focus. Yeah, they’re achieving or experiencing something amazing and you aren’t, but you care about them. As a result, try to focus on the fact that they’re getting an opportunity to experience joy, however fleeting it may be.
3. Remember that this too shall pass.
You know how the worst things that have ever happened to you eventually came to an end? That’s usually the case for good things as well. Everything we have or experience in life is temporary; ephemeral. This cup of coffee I’m drinking is absolutely perfect, but it will be finished in a few minutes, and I’ll never have one exactly like it again.
As such, if someone in your life has the opportunity to have or do something awesome, recognize that it’s also a fleeting situation.
That amazing body they’ve worked so hard to achieve will change again in a few years. Their incredible job opportunity might turn out to be super stressful. Similarly, their perfect relationship may fall to pieces, their trip around the world might be disastrous, their business may fail, and their kid might be a bedwetter until they’re 17.
If you can’t muster up the ability to feel happy for this person for the brief period of time they’ll have what you desire, then you’ll likely feel like a complete a**hole when they lose it, or when the opportunity ends.
4. Work it out and work through it.
Instead of lashing out or dumping on others about your bummed feelings, get them out in healthier, more proactive ways.
My partner and I are both quite physical, so we might go a few rounds with the boxing bag, chop some wood, or go for a run. She’s fond of going for a swim and screaming underwater, which is apparently quite cathartic. Getting fury, rage, or despair out of the body in a public place is rather frowned upon and may startle the general populace, so doing this privately or in a secluded place outdoors is a better idea.
Consider this as a type of heat sink: you have to send that fire somewhere or you’re going to wander around burning hot and spending more energy lying to yourself and everyone else.
Once you’ve dealt with and expunged these emotions, you’ll naturally feel more amicable toward the person that you are trying to be happy for.
Don’t be surprised if these feelings rise up again every now and then. Forewarned is forearmed. Before you hit a spiral because of some precipitating emotional stimulus, remember that you have already dealt with these emotions.
You’ve transcended them before, so this is a lesser wave. Then decide what it is you want to do with these emotions. You could let these thoughts derail your life and get in the way of what you want to achieve, or you could choose to recognize them for what they are.
Consider what Buddha said about unwanted thoughts: “Ask yourself this, do these thoughts serve me?” If they don’t, let them go.
5. Tell them: “I wish you joy.”
This phrase has been a cornerstone for both me and my partner over the years. It’s an expression of feeling that allows you to remain completely neutral in your own emotions, while still wishing something beneficial for another.
When and if you hear that something wonderful is happening for someone, and you can’t bring yourself to feel happy for them, wish them joy. By saying that, you can sincerely bless them with the wish that beautiful things unfold for them, but you aren’t lying to them by saying that you’re happy for them.
You can phrase this type of thing in whatever way feels natural for you. For example, if someone tells you about an amazing thing happening in their life, you can say “That’s amazing! I hope it all works out great for you!,” or “You deserve that kind of happiness, bro!”
These responses are outwardly positive, but personally neutral. As such, you’re not being false to the people you care about, nor are you faking emotion just to keep them content.
What to do when other people’s success makes you sad.
Have you ever felt sad when watching others succeed? That’s okay, a lot of people have.
First, don’t feel shame or guilt about what you’re feeling. Emotions are valid, and if you feel like a piece of crap for a few minutes because someone else is succeeding when you’re not, that’s okay.
But there are ways to process and deal with these emotions. Here’s how:
1. Focus on your own life.
What’s key is how you choose to act afterward. Are you going to mope about it and do nothing? Or use those feelings as fuel to drive your own goals and life changes?
The best way to get over feeling sad about someone else’s success is to bring your attention back to your own life. Think about what’s most important to you right now, be it career, education, fitness goals, material possessions, or relationships. Then consider how much time and effort you’re putting into the things that are supposedly important to you.
Are you putting real time and effort into achieving these things? If not, why aren’t you? There are solutions to every problem and paths to each goal you want to attain.
If you want to do something but you’re too depressed or anxious to pursue it, find a good therapist and get help so you can move forward. Are you physically incapable of doing the thing you want? Then redirect your focus to what you can attain or achieve. You can always change direction in life, provided that you keep moving forward.
The choice is yours as to whether you want to spend the rest of your days lamenting what you don’t or can’t have, or striving toward what you can have with consistent work and focus.
2. Focus on things that bring you contentment.
When other people’s successes make you feel sad, bring the focus back onto yourself and what you love.
Furthermore, focus on something that requires a fair amount of concentration. That way, you won’t have much time to mull over all the things that are going on in their life. You’re doing things that bring you joy or peace.
For example, one of my favorite personal pastimes is archery. When I’m feeling out of sorts, or the weight of the world is bringing me down, I go out onto the range and loose arrows at some targets.
Archery requires a great deal of concentration, so I have to stop worrying and focus my attention on what I’m doing. Is my left elbow turned out so I don’t get bow-snapped on my inner arm? Is my right elbow drawing back straight, or am I raising it as I pull?
I need to be very still and focused on my target, while also ensuring that I’m aiming well and drawing hard enough to hit it.
When my shooting is off, that’s an indicator that something is off balance within me. So I course correct and keep going. As my consistency and accuracy improve with practice over time, so does my mood.
The more you focus on the things that bring you fulfilment and peace, the easier it is to feel happier for others and the world in general.
3. Remember that the lives people project aren’t necessarily “real.”
A lot of people get down in the dumps after scrolling through social media, looking at the seemingly “perfect” lives that others are living. They start measuring their own achievements, appearance, and so on, against the images and captions shared by others, and end up feeling like they’re coming up short.
It’s hard to feel happy for someone who seems to be having an amazing life when your own is wracked with difficulty.
The thing to keep in mind here is that just because you see an image of something online, it doesn’t mean it represents reality.
You might feel envious about someone else’s weight loss or fitness level, for example, based on the images they’ve shown. But those images have likely been Photoshopped, filtered, and curated so you see the best angles with all the less-than-ideal bits edited out.
Similarly, people might show off photos of their amazing partner but not talk about the difficulties going on between them. It’s rather like looking at photos of an amazing heritage house that looks incredible on the outside, but inside is full of termites and black mold.
Be aware of those who are powerfully projecting their perfect lives, as more often than not, they’re overcompensating for some intense difficulties. They might be lauding their personal achievements and showing off their belongings, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually happy.
Generally, these people are filling their internal voids with “stuff,” or making huge life changes that they think are going to solve all their personal problems. As a result, you’re not obligated to be “happy” for them. You can wish them joy and peace instead, and that might be a greater blessing overall.
4. Take charge of your own healing.
From my personal experience, one of the best ways to move past old hurts and to be able to feel joy for others is to talk about those wounds with trusted friends or a competent therapist. This is because these people can see our “blind spots” and offer us perspectives we might not have otherwise considered.
In addition to that, remember that you are also your closest, most trusted friend. Be discerning with whom you open up to, as there are many who would capitalize and exploit your suffering for their questionable benefit.
Therapists are ideal because they practice doctor/patient confidentiality; whereas, those in your social circle may turn against you if circumstances between you change. If you want the things you discuss to stay secret, then choose a professional rather than a friend as your confidant.
5. Choose peace and neutrality rather than happiness.
Quite often, it’s best to aim for peace with the situation you’re dealing with, whatever it is, rather than forcing yourself to feel something that you don’t.
A perfect example of this is “body neutrality,” which is (in my opinion), far healthier than the “body positivity” movement. That’s a form of toxic positivity—when people insist that you have to feel a certain way or else you’re being negative.
There’s another option here, and that is the unpolarized middle ground: true neutral.
Let’s expand upon the previous comparison to body positivity here.
Rather than insisting that you love your physical form no matter what, “body neutrality” means that you accept and care for your form, because it is what it is. You aren’t forcing yourself to feel love, nor do you feel hate because you wish it was different. You make peace with it, treat it well, nurture it, and be grateful for what you’re able to do with it.
The same goes for situations in which you might be expected to feel happy for others, but you don’t. The cornerstone of any healthy relationship is honesty. Don’t feel obligated to express happiness if you don’t feel it, but wish them the best instead. This way, you can accept and make peace with the situation without losing any personal integrity by lying.
Still not sure how to be happy for others? Talking to someone can really help you to handle whatever life throws at you. It’s a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.
We really recommend you speak to a therapist rather than a friend or family member. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can help you to explore your thoughts and feelings and work on those things that stand in the way of your happiness for others.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.
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