Image by aloshbennett via FlickrTime to stop putting each other down when we have successes. Really. Everyone struggles when they have failures. Failures don't feel good and there's that who wretched bruised, "How will I ever bring myself to feel brave enough to try again." business that inevitably follows a major downer. I hate that our culture makes us feel sort of similar feelings when we have simple successes in life.
I was talking to my sister on the phone yesterday and she was pointing out that we (especially women) have this sick cultural reaction to our own personal victories. [See her post, which got me going on the topic here.] We don't tell people when we win, because we know people won't share our joy. They'll get out all their needles when we take a waltz with our new red balloon instead. I have lost all the baby weight twice and am in the throes of hacking my way through a third round of weight loss. Do I talk about it? Nope. It's not because it's not important to me or because it's effortless and I just drop pounds in my sleep...I'm working at it really hard and it's really difficult and I care a lot about the topic and believe me, there are private but riotous celebrations in my bathroom near the scale whenever I make it to another goal. I don't share because I'm scared of being either depressing to others or verbally bitten by the jealous.
I hate being part of a culture that feels threatened by fellows successes. Why can't we root for the people around us and find a way to feel that we have some personal stake (even a vicarious one) in their achievements or windfalls? Even worse, I think the idea that we feel like we need to toss out a little negativity when we share our happiness is so wretched. ("I just potty trained my son! Of course, maybe he'll regress when we have the baby, we'll see.") The idea that someone near us winning means we are less shiny and cool is so absurd that it makes my teeth hurt. Let's throw that one out with all our energy and a mighty war whoop to boot, shall we?
I think most of this negativity is unconscious. I'd venture to guess that most of the people I know who take stabs at other's joys don't mean to be doing something mean spirited. We are naturally inward focused and it's easy to have a reflexive desire reaction to somebody's else's win. Still, I really feel sad when I hear a friend announce success:
"Am so excited for us! We met our budget three months running! Hooray!"
And a co-listener says glumly:
"Geez! Must be nice. We're so in debt I can't even imagine making a budget."
I think there are a few things we can do to change the culture of private happiness and make happiness a mutual, public affair.
- When we win, try to share with people around us. (it's good for the soul to hear about people's personal joys) And I think it really is true that when we share our joy it is doubled. Wanna savor your wins? Tell a friend!
- When our success intimidates we can share how hard won, or practically achievable our happiness has been. This makes sure that ensure those around us that we aren't trying to be a superior. (Everyone appreciates knowing that you stopped buying soda and bought a food scale instead of just "got lucky and lost weight")
- When we witness somebody being shot down over their joy, reinforce the happy sharer and also encourage the negative listener. Kill two birds with one stone and be the positive force. Something like this: "Gee, your husband deserves about three gold stars for bringing you breakfast in bed. I bet you felt like a million bucks!" (and then to the gloomy third party) "Sure sounds good, eh? I love to be treated like celebrity, don't you?"
- When we catch ourselves thinking or even feeling negatively because somebody we know has a success, try to nip it in the bud. Remind ourselves that we are not in a grand happiness competition with all of humanity. Life is more like a relay where we ought to root for and assist our teammates. When other people win we stand to gain a lot. We can learn techniques for beating our own problems, we can share the high, we can be inspired to aspire ourselves and our community becomes a place where people own joy which is a great environment.