Enough about me, what about you?
July 16, 2009 9:49 AM   Subscribe

How can I stop feeling bad for myself when something good happens to one of my friends?

Today one of my friends had something extraordinary happen to him, something that is best defined as "crazy good", and I am proud of him, know he put lots of hard work into it, etc.

But this also brought up the green monster in me. This happens a lot, I have trouble being genuinely happy for other people because I was raised to be very competitive, and to always fight to be the best. So while great things happen to total strangers on a daily basis, when something good happens to a friend (be it an award, a promotion, a huge cash bonus, etc.) I can't help but feel jealous.

The closer someone's success is to my own life (they work in the same field, they achieve something I'd wanted to, they make money) it is even worse.

I'm wondering how to get past the "me" part of all this so I can just genuinely celebrate the success of those close to me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Meet your ego. A petty, sniveling, competitive part of you that makes you resent the people you love. It takes practice drowning it out, but you can do it. It's like training a dog. Just tell it "No" over and over again.
posted by anniek at 9:56 AM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh man, I know exactly how you feel. Are you using your time and energy to work on yourself and your portfolio of stuff so that crazy good things happen to you too? I find that it's easier to be happy for other people if we are neck-and-neck in the big cosmic race instead of feeling left behind.
posted by amethysts at 9:57 AM on July 16, 2009

I could be totally wrong here, but it sounds like you are concerned that wanting what others have makes you a bad person because you can't be genuinely happy for them.

I'm wondering how to get past the "me" part of all this so I can just genuinely celebrate the success of those close to me.

Those two things aren't mutually exclusive you know. Wanting what they have just means that you appreciate more keenly what it is that they've accomplished. Just like the best comfort can come from a friend who's already been there, the most genuine celebration of success may come from someone who has yet to achieve it. It's those people who truly understand the awesomeness of what the other person just got.

It's nothing to be ashamed of if you observe a friend's accomplishments/luck and want them for your own. Envy can even be a great motivator. The worst thing you can do for yourself, IMO, is to take a part of yourself, label it as "bad," and then do all you can to suppress it. Acknowledge both the strengths and the weaknesses of it and then integrate it into your everyday behavior and I bet that you'll be much happier about the whole thing.
posted by scrutiny at 10:05 AM on July 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Jealousy’s pull can feel irresistible, but it’s a wasteful toxin. Try to re-route the energy you spend on envy toward making good things happen for you. Maturity greatly helps, too. I don't know how old you are, but if you're youngish, you’ll probably grow more secure in yourself in time and no longer feel these unhappy feelings. Good luck.
posted by applemeat at 10:06 AM on July 16, 2009

One simple piece of Mom 'n' Pop wisdom that has really gotten me through life is that you can only work hard and do your best in whatever YOU are doing. You can't be holding yourself up to others all the time, but it helps to take note of what they did to advance themselves. If you're not accomplishing enough or advancing enough in your field/life/etc, then maybe you need to make some changes. Your question is a little vague for me to offer anything else here.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:07 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

It might seem a bit odd, but what about putting on Morrissey's classic "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful" and lipsynching to it in a full length mirror every day you have these feelings? Bonus if you put on some green facepaint and sneer wildly as you vamp it up. Then you wash up, drive out to Walgreen's, and buy a "Congratulations!" card for your friend and one for yourself. In the second card, search for something recent in your life which has happened and is good, then issue congratuations for it. Eventually, you might associate the unpleasantness of the little introspective ritual with the feeling of which you wish to rid yourself.

I've had some success in stamping out targeted personality traits/triggered reactions by associating each event with a routine where I 1) recognize my smallness, pettiness, etc., 2) then force myself to do something directly in opposition to that feeling, 3) and, where applicable, searching for something in my life which contradicts or mitigates that reaction.

That helps with the reflexive feeling, but it might also be a sign that a larger improvement in your life is needed, as things may not (and I emphasize the "may") have been going your way due to a lack of effort, self-sabotage, etc.
posted by adipocere at 10:08 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

My daughter's a bit like this. I find what really helps is acknowledging the successes in her life and keeping her more focused on her own life than the lives of others. In my daughter's case, it's really more to do with how she feels about herself than anything else. It's about what she perceives to be lacking in her own life much more than anything else.
posted by Lolie at 10:12 AM on July 16, 2009

This happens a lot, I have trouble being genuinely happy for other people because I was raised to be very competitive, and to always fight to be the best.

One way to avoid this kind of thinking and still keep a competitive spirit is to switch what you're competing against: Instead of competing against other people, compete against the system or game. Being the best doesn't have to be about tearing other people down or exploiting other people's failures, it can just be about you individually reaching your own personal goals. The best athletes don't get there by settling to be the best out of the people around them; if a star track athlete wins a race because someone else falls down, even though they didn't perform at their best level, they could consider that more of a loss than coming in second with a great time.

Life isn't a zero-sum game, and everyone has their own rules that they play by and their own goals that they are working towards. Instead of looking at other people as your competitors, look at them as your teammates. Celebrate other people's accomplishments, but don't let their accomplishments or lifestyle choices define who you are and what you've done in your life.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:14 AM on July 16, 2009 [5 favorites]

You may try flipping that emotion around. Instead of feeling bad that your friend has something you don't, feel good about yourself for being associated with such accomplished people.
posted by xingcat at 10:14 AM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

To me it seems like the focus of your jealousy revolves mostly around money or things associated with money from what's said in your post.

I have a few friends that are self made millionaires and while I'm not quite at their monetary level yet, nor do I know if I'll ever get there, I really don't care. I seem happier with what I have and do in comparison with what anyone else has.

I'm extremely competitive as well so I know where you are coming from. I'll go as far as trying to be strategic to win things like Candy Land or yelling at myself and others when it comes to competing in sports.

It just comes down to focusing all your energy to being the best you can be each day and doing the best you can for your own pursuit of happiness.
Many times it is much easier to be lazy and think about how good things are coming so easy for others instead of focusing your energy on making the same positive things manifest in your own life.

Next time your friends have something great happen to them you should more look at it as a joyous thing to be associated with such successful people.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:17 AM on July 16, 2009

Forgive me if this is hypercritical, but I must mention that I revile the phrase "because I was raised to be..." My personal philosophy: At eighteen your parents no longer rule your life but you get a 4 year grace period in which to be immature and despicable and blame it all on "how you were raised"; at 22 it's time to grow the fuck up and take responsibility for your own actions.

You probably used the cliché offhandedly, so apologies if my criticism is undeserved.

To address your question, has it occurred to you that if these great things can happen to your friends, that means they can happen to you, too? Or that their success can be beneficial for you in some way? How about looking at it that way?

Yay, my friend just landed an awesome PR job! She & I have similar talents and abilities, so if she can do it, so can I!


Woohoo, my buddy passed the bar exam! Now I can stop posting legal questions to AskMe because I have my own free font of legal information right here, and he comes without the IANAL disclaimer!

It's still a bit of a selfish way to look at it, but at least you're genuinely happy for their achievement and you can celebrate joyfully.
posted by philotes at 10:44 AM on July 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

Remind yourself that their success does not cancel out your own. They aren't taking any opportunities away from you. Even if you both do the same sort of thing, they can conquer their corner of it, and you can conquer yours. If it's the attention they're getting that bothers you, then acknowledge this about your feelings. That's a big step toward dealing with them. If nothing else, use these feelings of jealousy as motivation to be your best... as long as you aren't trying to outdo the people you love all the time. Everyone deserves their chance. They're getting theirs, and you'll get yours. Just remember that.
posted by katillathehun at 10:48 AM on July 16, 2009

I usually make a policy to allow no schadenfreude into my life, because I don't want to be the type of person who is so insecure they let other people's accomplishments make them feel diminished. I really dislike those kinds of people, and don't want to become one. Especially when it's a friend, and you know they TOTALLY deserve their honors. Sure, I often desire to have what my friends have (such as, a personal trainer friend of mine has incredible muscles, and I think, 'wow, she works out so hard and look what it's gotten her. Yay her, I'm going to ask her for some tips') but don't let it make me feel badly about myself and my own progress, since I'm WORKING on it. She is an inspiration.

Also, I find it adds to my feelings of accomplishment by including the little internal pat-on-the-back of "I am a mature and secure person, being able to unbegrudgingly and whole-heartedly congratulate my friend on her success."

HOWEVER, one of my friends basically achieved one of my career/life's goals very recently, with flying colors and fame to boot. It's the first time in my life I've been truly jealous to the point of actually letting it affect my mood. It's a terrible feeling! So the way I am handling it is by limiting my exposure to the media that is congratulating him so publicly, not letting anyone know my feelings of inferiority and intimidation. I put on a show of "hey great job, you totally deserve it" and then i put a LOT of energy into not feeling bad about myself, and instead working on a realistic plan to help me achieve what he's achieved, within a certain time frame.

For me, it's all about convincing myself that the same success is totally within my reach, if I simply follow some specific steps and work really hard, and have discipline. Same as my personal trainer friend and her muscles--- if I work out every day, and push myself, I can have muscles too. So why do I feel bad about my other friend's career success? If I work hard everyday and push myself as hard as he has, chances are I might have what he has eventually, too. It's all about taking responsibility and being proactive, and most of all realizing that you CAN have anything you want, if you work really hard for it. It's in your control, it's in your power, so stop worrying about what they have, and get it for yourself. I think the bad feelings come from doubting that you CAN have it, but if you stop doubting that, you'll feel a lot more empowered and inspired, not threatened, by their success.
posted by np312 at 10:50 AM on July 16, 2009 [5 favorites]

Writer Anne Lamont's book Bird By Bird, which is geared towards writers, has a whole essay devoted to "how to handle it when one of your friends becomes successful and you do not". You may want to read it; it's pretty comforting. I have no idea whether you're dealing with writing, but it almost doesn't matter - she speaks more of the emotional roller coaster you go through (and does so amusingly), and how to ride it.

Note I didn't say how to suppress it, because you won't, entirely. Part of her approach concerns forgiving yourself for wanting to curl up and sulk in your bedroom with a picture of your friend drawing devil horns on it or whatever. It's a very human response, and it could be that just indulging yourself that impulse for a little while, just to give it an outlet, may be all you need to do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:56 AM on July 16, 2009

I was looking for a pat definition of "gluckshmerz" for you, but found this article instead; maybe it will be helpful? Article
posted by The otter lady at 11:06 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

np312 -- schadenfreude is when you take delight and gloat in others' problems, which isn't what the poster is doing.

The otter lady has it right: Gluckschmerz is when it hurts or annoys you that others are happy or successful.
posted by vickyverky at 11:26 AM on July 16, 2009

I am 43, and this has taken some years, but I used to really struggle with this kind of thing as a young person, and it came from my anxiety and from thinking that if you weren't "the best" you were nothing. Having dealt with the anxiety in general, one thing that has helped me be happy for friends instead of dissatisfied for myself when things go well for them is to put some effort into being happy for them. Think it to youself, and say it out loud to others: "I'm so glad for Louise getting the partnership. She's worked hard for it for a long time," or "It's great that Jim and Ken will finally have some extra money; they deserve it." Somewhere in there, you have those feelings, too. Give them some space to grow.
posted by not that girl at 12:00 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's not bad to notice when the success of others awakens the desire to want good things in your life too. The trick is not having that be a negative feeling. One way to get in touch with being genuinely happy for others is to notice how that makes you feel. Instead of thinking "He has something that she wanted and I don't have what I want" try and turn it around to "He has something good in his life and I can have good things too and seeing his joy is a reminder of what it feels like to get what I want."

The other thing is that it feels much, much better to be happy for someone than to feel jealous. And you do have control over what you think and feel. It may not seem like it because you're out of practice, but you can talk yourself into feeling better if you accept where you are and make feeling better a priority. So the internal conversation would look something like this:

"He has something he wants and I don't have what I want."
"But if it is possible for him to have something he wants, it's possible for me to have what I want."
"I have had a lot of things that I want over the course of my life, in fact, recently I [...]"
"And it was really nice that [my friend] was happy for me. I have great friends."
"I'm so glad that [my friend's] work paid off for him!" etc.

This seems kind of elementary, but if you put in the mental work to do this whenever feelings you don't like and want to get rid of crop up, soon your brain will start down the happy trail without you really thinking about it consciously, just as it starts down the ... uh ... unhappy trail now. I don't know about you, but I like knowing that I have control over my thoughts and feelings and have the choice to feel better in any moment.
posted by Kimberly at 1:10 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

These lines from the Desiderata kind of help me:

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
posted by GaelFC at 2:31 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can sympathize with your situation and have been feeling the same way myself for the past couple of months. Several friends have gotten engaged/married, and I want to become engaged. Roommates have secured awesome summer jobs while no one wanted to hire me for the 2 1/2 months between undergrad and graduate school. It seems as though others have loving/accepting families who financially support them while I have fended for myself since my teens and have a family that is extremely hard to deal with.

How do I deal with the jealousy? I let myself feel it. I don't necessarily agree with those on the thread who advise you to get over it, even if the goal is your happiness and personal growth. Sometimes the best way to get over feeling jealous of others' success is to actually let yourself wallow in your own jealousy, privately. Spend a night stewing over it while marathon-ing your favorite show. Cry over it. Indulge in your favorite treat. Complain to yourself out loud. Whatever it takes to make you feel better. Then you can work on thinking about and being proud of all of the positive aspects of your life and your accomplishments. Once you get over the raw emotion and move toward feeling secure in your own skin you will be able to feel sincere happiness for your friend(s).

Surprisingly, it only takes me a day or two to get over something in this way compared to the week or two that it takes if I hold it all in.
posted by delicate_dahlias at 3:26 PM on July 16, 2009

It's okay to have the feelings; they're pretty normal. You need to separate them from the other person's success, though -- it's not a zero sum game. Their getting a benefit does not remove anything from your life; it does not diminish you. You're having feelings about two separate things -- happiness because someone you care about got something beneficial, and anger because something did not happen to you.

Consider: would you rather it happened to you instead of to them, or would you rather it happened to you as well as to them? If it's the former, that's a problem, but assuming it's the latter, you really just need to recognize you're having two separate emotions about two separate things, and they're both valid.
posted by davejay at 4:46 PM on July 16, 2009

Unless this feeling of jealousy of others is constant, which does not sound like the case, I would just trust that it will pass in time. Yesterday, the day your friend had the great success, was an extraordinary day for him. Tomorrow or the day after could be your day. I used to be hyper-competitive; part of it is just my personality, part of it is my upbringing. As I have gotten older, this unrelenting need to be the best has just mellowed somewhat. I still want to the best, but I recognize that that comes at the expense of some other things (sleep, happiness, relationships, sanity), so I've learned just to have a glass of wine and try to let it go. Sometimes it takes several glasses of wine.
posted by booksandwine at 2:44 PM on July 17, 2009

You know, you might want to start thinking more in terms of "we're all in the same boat."

Something cool happened to your friend. This gives your friend more resources to possibly help you in the future. Think about it as opening doors FOR YOU, as well.

Common example: Years from now, you will find out that because your friend got into that awesome grad school (though you didn't), and came out with really good connections, they are better able to help you with whatever situation you may be in. Being intelligently self-interested means wanting good things, amazing things, to happen to the people around you.

Right now you are thinking only in terms of immediate feelings and reactions. Life has a funny thing called "long term effects", and it's only because you don't see them now that you feel jealous and bitter.

So be good to your friend and celebrate!
posted by thisperon at 4:34 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Speaking from experience, I can tell you where this'll go if you allow these feelings to grow and eventually consume you: you will start to secretly hope your friends fail, and feel this sickly but darkly satisfying "comfort" whenever they trip up. Of course, you'll say to them, "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that," but you won't mean it. Taken to extremes, you'll start to subconsciously sabotage them, usually by chipping away at their reputation in front of others and pointing out their flaws whenever possible ("Tom got that new promotion!" "Yeah, but I heard he totally sucked up to get it.")

Don't go there. Don't go there.
posted by chalbe at 3:11 PM on July 22, 2009

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