How To

By Stephanie Ila Silver-Silberstein

Sounds easy enough, right? Maybe even effortless if you consider yourself a genuinely nice person and you truly love the person you’re happy for, right? Hmmmm. Perhaps. But in New York City, competition can be fierce and expectations of oneself, however unrealistic, can still be disappointing when not met. In a city of overachievers, it wouldn’t be surprising if a little healthy competition turned into a lot of unhealthy jealousy. And while I’m definitely not a doctor, here are a few ways I’ve learned to kick that comparison habit in the butt, truly be happy for others and do as Earl Hickey would – believe in the power of karma.

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1 – Play the subway game: An ex-roommate of mine and her boyfriend invented a game where you look at the 7 people sitting on the subway bench across from you and decide who of those 7 you want to be (and guess who your friend wants to be as well). Now, its likely you would want to try walking in the 22 year old model’s Manolo Blahniks or learn what the seemingly wise old woman actually thinks about. But for like…an hour. After that, chances are, you’ll realize that you really don’t want to be any of those 7 people – you want to be, well…you! Keep that realization in mind the next time your nemesis tells you she got a promotion at work.

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2 – Remember those after school specials: If the subway game doesn’t do the trick, think back to those after school specials where the most popular girl in school had abusive parents or an eating disorder. Though people can be walking on cloud 9 for one reason, chances are pretty good that their life isn’t perfect. So be happy they have at least one thing going for them – even 500 things going for them. It’s quite possible they’d give them all up to make that 501st thing right in their lives. Then again, I’d still give my eye-teeth to be Jennifer Aniston. Never mind. Moving on.

3 – Learn to be happy for yourself, first: There is always going to be someone richer than you, poorer than you, smarter than you, dumber than you, prettier than you, and so on and so forth. Though I don’t advocate complacency, striving to be the absolute best at all costs, is a waste of time and energy that can be spent doing something productive – like making yourself truly happy. Let’s face it. When you’re happy, being happy for others is a whole lot easier. So take a class you’ll enjoy, lead a healthy lifestyle, nurture positive relationships in your life, and surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself (and not because they’re so much worse off than you are). Pretty soon, you won’t be uttering the words, “I’m so happy for you,” through gritted teeth.

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4 – Consider Karma: Bottom line – you actually want people to succeed and be happy. Your stomach may sink every time you see Miss Perky McPerkyson on television accepting an award, for instance. But what if she offered you the job of a lifetime? Aren’t you glad you swallowed your pride and offered her your sincerest “congratulations”? Or how about this? You’re truly happy your friend is in love, even though you’re single. She sets you up with his best friend and guess what? Now you’re in love, too! Though gloating, bragging, or singing from the rooftops in any form can be annoying as all hell, you’d much rather have people doing any one of these things than crying and brooding all day long. Emotions are contagious. Smile and the whole world will smile with you.

5 – Listen to your mother: Remember when you were in 7th grade and some girl would pick on you because you hadn’t yet learned to wax your upper lip? No? Nevermind. Anyway, my mother’s response was always, “She’s just jealous of you”. At the time, I probably just cried and slammed the door upon hearing this. But perhaps she was right. Keep a running list of things you can be proud of and refer to it whenever you’re feeling a little under par. It won’t be long before, “making other people feel great about themselves by being happy for them” is added to that list.

6 – Think a smile: I studied Alexander Technique in graduate school and my teacher would always instruct us to ‘think a smile‘. Surprisingly, doing so made me breathe easier, relieve any headache I was having, relax and more often than not, smile for real. So when your best friend is talking your ear off about meeting ‘the one’ moments after you get home from a horrific first date, think a smile, and realize that you’ll get to talk her ear off about meeting ‘the one’ soon enough.

6 – Talk about it: When all else fails, talk to someone – a friend, a relative, a religious officiant or best yet – a therapist. Contact your health insurance company for a list of therapists in your neighborhood. A doctor may prescribe you something if this issue is causing you to fall into a depression. But usually, just talking about it out loud can give you all the perspective you need. So for the amount of a co-pay or the price of a cup of coffee, you can learn to feel genuine happiness for others.

It’s rare that we’re all happy at the same time, and keep in mind that everyone’s life is a series of ups and downs – not just yours. You may want your single friend’s job while she wants your married life. You may want your friend’s luxurious lifestyle, but she wants to be pregnant like you. It’s so easy to play the comparison game and we’ve all got our ‘happy for you’ game face ready when necessary. But at the end of the day, we all (well, most of us anyway) deserve to be happy. And it’s the support and happiness you get from others that makes the circle of happiness truly complete.

Originally published April 2006
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