The word “happiness” has only one simple definition in the dictionary—the state of being happy—but over 40 different synonyms: joy, contentedness, bliss, optimism, and good humor to name a few. This goes to show that we humans all experience happiness differently and the sources of our happiness are significantly diversified. One might experience the happiness a child brings while another might find a similar joy in a beloved pet. You might find happiness in exploring the world while your counterpart finds joy within the walls of home. The fact remains that most of us travelers on this planet are searching for happiness—the long-lasting kind.
Everyone from writers, to political figures, to celebrities have their secrets to happiness. Yours will be different from theirs; mine will be different from yours. But at the heart of man’s search for joy lies one universal bullet point that many of us are missing. It only took me over three decades to learn this, but developing genuine happiness for others has allowed me to tap into a simpler, deeper happiness for myself. The key to happiness is being truly happy for others.
The Secret to Happiness: Being Truly Happy for Others
A few years ago, a friend of mine posted some very exciting news to her Facebook page: she’d finished her manuscript and had an offer to get her first book published! It was the dream every writer waits years, sometimes decades to come true. I plastered a smile on my face as I pushed the “like” button and added a comment with a string of emojis—whoop-whoop, smiley face with heart eyes, hands clapping, etc. But I felt anything but thumbs-up inside.
Her good fortune left me with a dark feeling I couldn’t shake. I imagined her pristinely bound manuscript with 12-point, double-spaced font, and not a red mark in sight. Then I thought of my own manuscript scattered like a skiing accident around the house. One chapter here, a page of notes there…what a yard sale.
The days passed and even as my friend’s news faded, something funky lingered. I was agitated, easily set of by the smallest things. Finally, I stopped to ask myself, What is going on? I began tracing my surliness back to the day of my friend’s announcement and it hit me like a Wile E. Coyote anvil to the head. I was jealous. I couldn’t be happy until I was truly, genuinely happy for my friend and her success.
Learning To Be Happy for Others
The key to happiness isn’t necessarily in our own personal accomplishments and successes. Those things contribute to our happiness, but we can only achieve long-term, homeostasis joy when we have inner peace. And inner peace can’t happen when we harbor jealously, resentment, or ill-will towards others. Often times the very person keeping us from happiness is ourself. The people we bottle up negativity towards are our usually closest friends and family.
Think about it. Has the good news of a friend or family member ever spurred the inner critic or judge in your head? How about that friend who:
Is building her dream home?
Just got an amazing promotion or pay raise?
Lost a ton of weight or has really toned up?
Had a stroke of good luck, like winning the lottery or scoring a free vacation?
Is excited about a lifestyle change?
Makes a decision that you don’t necessarily agree with?
In all of these instances, it is our natural instinct to compare, nit-pick, or pass judgement. I can’t believe they’re spending that much money on a home. I would never choose that paint color. A friend’s pay raise might make us feel insecure or defensive about our own paycheck. A stroke of good luck might incite thoughts like, They don’t deserve that. Maybe a new tattoo isn’t up your alley, but there’s no use withholding your friendship or love because someone close to you chooses to get one.
Allowing negative thoughts like these to fester inside only bogs you down and ultimately makes you irritable and moody. In these cases, the only person keeping you from being truly happy is yourself.
It takes practice.
Flipping this switch isn’t easy; like making any change, it takes concerted effort and continual practice. Here are some ways to let go of negativity and invite more positivity into your life:
1.Say it and mean it. When good things happen to people around you, congratulate them. Work to recognize their happiness and then share it! Tell them how happy you are for them and really mean it.
2. Don’t compare. Embrace your friend’s success and realize that you are two different people with different strengths and talents. Be patient with others and yourself. In two years, your yard sale might be a best-seller.
3. Think of how you would feel. Empathy is a powerful tool for understanding. Think of how you would feel after losing 50 pounds or landing that dream job. You’d feel amazing and want all your friends and family to be happy for you too.
4. Let it go. You can either bottle bad feelings inside or you can choose to let them go. A large part of our happiness is our choice. Understand that your thoughts directly affect your happiness and letting go of negative thoughts is like removing a heavy weight. If you need to take a deep breath or two…do.
Learning that my happiness for others symbiotically affected my own happiness was a huge wake up call—one I wish I’d had much earlier in life. The secret to happiness is more like a little key that can open more doors than you ever realized. When you can be sincerely happy for others, it will change the way you feel about yourself. And if you’re lucky and catch on early, you just might buy yourself a few extra decades of inner peace.