When I told my best friend I was happy for her because she was pregnant, that couldn't have been further from the truth. The truth was that her announcement ruined my day, my week and my self esteem. It added pressure to my already pressurized mid thirties brain and kept me awake at night with images of celebrating birthdays alone and bitter, while everyone else basked in the warmth and love of their self made families.
Some years later when it was my turn to be pregnant, I felt too guilty to announce it to my single friends. One night, as I finally plucked up the courage to pick up the phone and share the news, I said to my husband, "watch, as I ruin someone's day."
He looked at me in utter confusion, "what are you talking about?" he said. "They're you're friends, they'll be happy for you."
"There's no such thing as being happy for somebody else," I shrugged, and he looked at me like i had just announced that i was a psychopathic flesh eating robot.
So I began asking around to see whether others believed it was possible to be happy for another person, and was surprised to find just how many responded in the affirmative. Is everyone deluding themselves, too afraid to admit the socially unacceptable truth, or is it really possible to be happy for someone else, even when their achievement strikes a blow at your own sense of self worth?
From our first days in school when we compared our progress against our friends, to every milestone in life, we have no choice but to judge our successes based on that of our piers. And if our piers are faster, smarter and more popular, then we may experience feelings of inferiority. For example if you get 98% in a test and everyone else gets 99%, then you might say that you did well, but you are more likely to kick yourself for coming last.
If the friend's news is a goal that you too are striving for, like getting a promotion or buying a house, then news of their success will just stir the pot of your own frustrations. How can you possibly be happy for someone, whose actions have just made you feel like a failure? In fact is not a tiny (or perhaps not so tiny if you're really honest) part of you angry at that person for inflicting this added pressure on you? For example, when all your friends are single, there is no pressure to get married. But when, one by one, they start to pair off, well guess what, suddenly you've gone from carefree and popular to stressed, alone on a Saturday night and feeling horribly inadequate. All this because of actions taken by people who call themselves your friends.
Of course, when someone hits their milestones and succeeds in life, they aren't doing it to spite you. But it hurts nonetheless and it hurts because they did it and you didn't.
So next time you say "I'm happy for you," ask yourself, am I really? And if someone claims to be “happy for you”, be sensitive, don't boast about your successes and don't blame them if they would rather find new friends who don't make them feel so bad about themselves. Chances are, when they've hit the milestone too, they'll be back.
I had fertility problems, and suddenly it seemed like everyone around me was multiplying. My circle of barren friends was narrowing and pretty soon I would be the only one left. I felt horribly inadequate and began to get heart arrhythmias whenever a friend called or emailed. I began to avoid all friends older than thirty (which was all my friends) just in case more baby news came my way, and considered moving to a deserted island. I didn't even feel ready for my own baby, but I was beginning to feel like a failure. And all because of actions taken by my friends.
Of course we shouldn’t hold ourselves back just to please others, and we should always seek out our own happiness, I'm just saying that in so doing we will invariably create casualties.
It’s a sad fact of life but to quote Dale Carnegie, 'if you want enemies, excel your friends, but if you want friends, let your friends excel you.'
"I'm so happy for you !"