“Who is the happiest of man? He who values the merits of others and in their pleasure takes joy, even though it was his own.” --Goethe
Great relationships are characterized by sympathetic joy The definition of sympathetic joy, according to Wikipedia, is a translation of the Pali and Sanskrit word Muditā “the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people's well-being.” It is characterized by sharing positive feelings with another, looking upon them with favor, and particularly characterized by feelings of respect for the success of another.
According to Martin Seligman in his book Flourish, there are four possible responses when someone shares something with you about their success: active constructive, passive constructive, passive destructive, and active destructive. If something wonderful happens to you and you share it with someone, the most likely response is a passive constructive response like “That’s nice or congratulations.” Occasionally there is passive destructive response such as being ignored when you share your good news. And what is even more rare is an active destructive which is critical such as “You didn’t earn that promotion.”
What truly enlivens our relationship is an active constructive response, when the person who hears of our success is sincerely happy for us. An active constructive response shows generosity of spirit and eagerness to hear more details about their good news. Celebrating the triumphs in life, from the small seemingly trivial ones to those that are more significant, strengthens the bond. Being genuinely enthusiastic in our response to our partner’s good fortune has a weighty impact on them. Here’s a good example of an active constructive response.
Jesse: “I’ve been selected to receive an award at the company party because of my leadership and high performance.”
Cassia: “That’s great! You really deserve to be publically acknowledged. You’ve worked so hard for this. We must bust out a bottle of champagne to celebrate right now. I am so proud of you I could pop. Tell me all
Cassia is being sincere about her enthusiasm about Jesse’s success, rather than envious and competitive. She is happy to have Jesse speak of the details leading up to the good news, how he worked towards promoting the conditions that gave rise to the success and what it means to him. For Jesse to have Cassia rejoice in his good fortune with him is a direct method toward building their trusting bond. Cassia’s taking time to show interest in him and his accomplishments shows deep respect.
Great Relationships Don’t Just Happen Automatically
Strong relationships occur when we give our time, attention, and care to another. One of the big benefits of romantic partnerships is support when difficult life circumstances befall us. Our partner can be there in our time of need when dark events happen, to be sympathetic and provide a shoulder to cry on. Such sincere support softens the blow and helps us to get through it.
It is an equally bonding experience to celebrate the successes, to have our partner’s vote of confidence when things are going well. We want to know that they are not competitive with us, or envious of our good fortune. We want them to be proud of our achievements, and to celebrate with us to magnify the joy. Envy, by becoming aware of its presence, is a trait that can either be cultivated or starved. When we are aware of the negative effect that envy has on our relationship, we can use that awareness to be inspired to become a bigger person, rather than to attempt to have our partner be less.
Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara, in her important article entitled Will You Be There for Me When Things Go Right? makes the claim that how we celebrate is more predictive of strong relationships than how we fight. She writes about the frequently overlooked positive exchanges that characterize good romantic partnerships. The findings of her study were that those couples showing the most enthusiastic responses reported with their relationship, the least conflict, and the most fun and relaxing activities, and the most all around satisfaction.
The frequency of active positive responses is essential to the development of healthy relationships. Each an enthusiastic response is a deposit in Karma Savings and Loan. All those accumulated positive emotional interchanges indeed serve as an account abundant with commitment, satisfaction, intimacy, trust, and appreciation. When the inevitable difficulties come along, there is a big account on which we can draw. When we celebrate each other’s accomplishments, we thrive. We are more likely to be securely bonded to each other, satisfied with our relationship, and to enjoy greater love and happiness, and that’s a good deal.
Linda Bloom L.C.S.W. has served as psychotherapist and seminar leader practicing relationship counseling almost forty years. Check out her OMTimes Bio. If you like what you read, click here to sign up Bloomwork’s monthly inspirational newsletter and receive our free e-book: Going For the Gold: Tools, practice, and wisdom for creating exemplary relationships. Follow Bloomwork on Facebook!