What’s that growing pit in your stomach when your friend announces she’s engaged, even though you knew this was the plan (hell you helped pick the ring!)? You even like the guy! What’s that internal gnawing feeling when your coworker gets a promotion? Even though they completely deserve it and it doesn’t affect you one bit.
What’s that slight sting when the guy/gal who you really weren’t even that “in” to, looks better than the last time you saw them? (Damn that life-altering haircut…who knew bangs could change everything?) But most importantly, what is that unsettling, unexplainable peace that comes with someone else’s failure, turmoil, or misfortune?
Over the past few months, this subject has ripped me apart time and time again. How can I claim to love people fully, yet I can’t wholeheartedly experience unabashed joy during their triumphs in life? What are the barriers to entering shared celebration people we do life with and how do we leave these behind forever? By no means is this a complete or finite list, but through some self-seeking and acute listening/absorbing in my outer social sphere, here are some reasons I think we’ve lost our ability to celebrate others:
Empathy is Easy, Half The Time
The definition of empathy is the ability to identify (cognitive empathy) and then relate (emotional empathy) to the emotional state of another person, but we cannot seem to get it through our peanut brains that empathy is not sympathy and it’s not just applicable when the proverbial shit is hitting the fan for someone. It’s for joy. It’s for celebration. It’s cumulative, not selective to emotional distress, in fact…distress is the easy part to relate to.
When We Can’t Fix or Help, Our Value is Diminished
I am a doer. This is the best and worst thing about me. As a chronic relational/ emotional/ physical pack mule, I think everything can be solved through perseverance, dedication, and lots of emotional perspiration. So naturally, I feel the need to inspire others to press through things, discipline their lives, and create opportunities of hope in their existence… but what happens when they don’t need me? What happens when they are more successful than I am? What happens when their relationship has worked out and mine disintegrated? What happens when I can’t offer wisdom or advice because they are excelling?
This lack of "need" from the other person greatly affects my (and probably your) ability to cheer others on when they are winning. When we aren’t being needed or depended on… all we have left to do is celebrate, and celebration doesn’t give us worth or validation because it’s not based on our own self-focused abilities.
We Run Everything Through The “Self Filter”
It is so difficult to see and experience the joy that others have experienced because we are too distracted with how it makes us feel. Without fail, we sift through the other person’s joy and figure out the exact parts we can extract to make ourselves feel worse about our own situation. Think of it like a really hideous Instagram filter, Kelvin for example. Every beautiful image comes through our feed, time and time again, we layer Kelvin on top and things start to look muddled, contrasted, and most importantly you aren’t able to see the true beauty of the image at all. We’ve lost the ability to see things clearly, unadulterated by our own insecurities, fears, and baggage.
We’ve Curated False Lives and Choose to Ignore That Fact
Don’t get me wrong, I love social networking. But, I want to submit that the way we project our lives to others has really messed us up here, people. We’ve all collectively decided that we should curate our existence through tilt-shifted megapixels, smartly-worded status updates, exclusive check-ins, and witty 140 character chunks of a perfect life. A life worth envying. A life worth aspiring to. Listen, I get that know no one wants to hear that I feel bloated today or that I spilled coffee on my keyboard at the office, but when we cherry-pick what we reveal to others, how can we expect them to real celebrate triumphs with us, when we are too busy falsifying a constant flow of epic-ness?
So what can we do?
We have to change our mindset and behaviour to reflect what we’d desire from others when we share our own victories. Here are some practical ways that have helped me on the way.
Identify, Seek, Extract
When that sinking feeling comes, grab ahold of it. Don’t let it wriggle its way to the back of your mind and paste on a blank smile as you give your toast. Dig deep and figure out what that little turd of a thought is and why it exists. Confront your motivations and crush the non-truths and insecurities that we feed ourselves as they come up.
What would happen if we were just honest? Plain, old vulnerability often is the best medicine around and can truly set you free. Picture your best friend telling you she’s pregnant… here comes that throw up feeling. What would happen if you could admit that while you are thrilled, that you are also dealing with some underlying personal stress about your own future? Obviously that might not be the first thing to say, but if we are building honest, true relationships with those around us, we’re gonna need to risk a little here. I think our interactions might feel a lot more genuine and once that cat’s outta the bag, you’ll feel freer and more able to be on board.
Everyday, choose to be thankful for something specific in your life. Share that with someone. Out loud. In conversation. Seriously.
Don’t let the twinge of negativity take over and create a growing separateness between your relationships. Don’t assume now that your friend has a hot new girlfriend, that he doesn’t still want copious amounts of man-time. Dig in and shower intention on that person. Often we can’t celebrate because we don’t feel like we’ve been invited to the party.