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How to Be Happy for Others, Even When You’re Unhappy

The practice of feeling happy for others helps our own mental health.

Key points

  • It can be hard to feel happy for others when we're struggling in our own lives.
  • Practicing celebrating others' good news improves our relationships and our own mental health.
  • Feeling happy for others doesn’t invalidate your own struggles.
Dominic Sansotta on Unsplash
Source: Dominic Sansotta on Unsplash

In a recent blog post, I listed 10 qualities of mentally healthy people. One of the qualities that I mentioned was the ability to be happy for other people, even when we're not happy in our own lives.

This is difficult, and it’s something that most of us have struggled with at one time or another. Being happy for other people, though, is good for our own mental health. It allows us to focus on something besides our own thoughts, feelings, and problems. Being happy for others, and expressing it to them, also grows our relationships. It’s important for others to know that we care about them and their lives, including what gives them joy. Most people want to be happy for others, but sometimes it’s hard, especially if your own life is full of challenges, and your own happiness seems out of reach.

I chose to write this blog now because I know the holidays can be hard. It’s a time when many people do feel happy, and they love sharing their photos and experiences with their family and friends. Being happy for others can be especially tough at this time of year. Maybe your best friend gets engaged over the holidays and you feel lonely. Or you would like to have children, and you receive a holiday card with a picture of your friends and their children, smiling and having a great time. It is possible to achieve genuine happiness for others and to become a part of their joy.

Feeling happy for others doesn’t invalidate your own struggles

When we feel sad, anxious, and dissatisfied with the status of our lives, it’s easy to get stuck in those feelings. But it is possible, and mentally healthy, to experience both negative and positive emotions at once. Sharing in the happiness of others doesn’t change our own circumstances or emotions, but it can give us a break from them. Take some time to celebrate the milestones of friends and family, even if you don’t feel celebratory. Most of the time, our loved ones do not expect us to be euphoric over their happiness when we are having a hard time. But we may be surprised at how our mood can change when people we love are doing well.

Reflect on how things change over time

Spend some time thinking about what others have gone through. Most people are not constantly happy nor do things always work out for them. In fact, feeling happy for the successes and joys of others can remind us that circumstances change. At least some of our friends and family have probably gone through hard times as well. Seeing how the lives of others change over time can be encouraging. The friend who was unemployed now has a new job. The sibling that was single has found a partner who makes them happy. Even though the happy news of others is not about us, the ways that the lives of others change gives us hope for our future.

Challenge negative thoughts regarding the happiness of others

When it’s been awhile since we’ve had happy news to share, it’s easy to get into a negative spiral with our own thoughts. But this makes it harder for us to be happy for others, and it ultimately doesn’t do us any good, either. For example, we may think that some people have all the good luck. Or we may wonder how others are able to get things they want when it feels like our own life is always challenging.

Not only do these thoughts prevent us from being happy for others, they keep us stuck with a negative cycle in our own heads. We must catch ourselves in this spiral and offer alternatives that are healthier. For instance, we can say things like, "my turn is coming," or, "It’s good to see things work out." Generate thoughts that get your brain out of the spin cycle of negativity.

Express happiness to your friends out loud

Even if you’re not sure you’re feeling up to it, call your friend to congratulate them on their good news. Send a text to thank someone for the lovely holiday card, even if it reminds you they have a family you don’t have yet. It isn’t necessary to make a grand gesture if you’re not feeling up to it. But a small gesture to let them know that you care about their happiness and well-being will accomplish both the goal of strengthening your relationship and reminding you that good things come to us in time.

Being happy for others does not and should not take away our own pain and suffering. But it’s important to keep exercising that muscle to keep our emotions balanced and to preserve healthy relationships.

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