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You know how it is. A friend gets an exciting new job. Lands a big client. Or meets a promising potential romantic partner.
You say, “How wonderful!” “That’s fabulous news!” “You must be so happy! And I’m happy for you.”
And—deep inside, in your heart of hearts—you’re struggling to keep that smile on your face. Thinking about your own situation. And wishing it were you with a new job, a big client, or a budding romantic relationship.
Well. It turns out, if we can find a way to be genuinely happy for a friend who shares good news, we will be happier in general.
That’s “freudenfreude” in action. If you’re not familiar, you’re not alone. This was a new one on me. And my first thought was, “What does Sigmund have to do with a friend’s good news?”
Turns out it’s not about that Freud.
Freudenfreude describes the joy we feel when someone else succeeds, even if their accomplishment doesn’t directly involve us. It’s based on the German word for joy—freude.
You may have experienced its better-known cousin, schadenfreude—that (possibly guilty) pleasure we find in somebody else’s misfortune. I’ll admit to a passing familiarity…
Somehow schadenfreude seems to come naturally, while its opposite number takes some effort. In fact, a Pennsylvania professor came up with Freudenfreude Enhancement Training to help people develop their capacity to feel joy at someone else’s good fortune.
And there’s good reason to develop that capacity. Ursinus College professor Catherine Chamblis told the New York Times freudenfreude is like social glue. It makes relationships “more intimate and enjoyable.”
Other social scientists say sharing in someone’s joy can also make us more resilient and more satisfied with our own lives.
So how do we get this freudenfreude thing going?
Dr. Chambliss and her colleagues suggest two specific practices, and they say both have worked to help sad students feel happier.
First, when someone in your circle feels good, ask questions. Invite them to tell you more about it. As they describe what’s going on for them, be sure to make eye contact. Really listen to their story.
Chances are good that your sincere effort to engage them will help you feel more positive too. All kinds of experts point to the uplifting effect of hearing a friend or colleague’s good news. When we feel happy for someone else, we share in the joy.
Indeed, in the Freudenfreude Enhancement Training, they call this process SHOY—for shared joy. Okay, it’s a little corny. But worth a try, don’t you think?
The other technique these experts promote is “bragitude.”
This one is all about expressing your gratitude when your success at, well, just about anything, grows out of someone’s support.
You start by talking about your win, and then you tell the other person how they helped. It might have been a direct favor they did for you, inspiration they provided, an introduction they made. Anything you can characterize as positive, when you mention it, it helps them share in your positive state.
And you can always create opportunities for freudenfreude.
No matter how you’re feeling, or what’s going on in your own life, when you’re in conversation, ask, “What’s the best thing that’s happened in your world lately?” or “Tell me something about your work you’re proud of.” Or, “How have your kids made you smile lately?”
Almost any question that gets them telling a positive story will make them feel good and if you stay with it, it just might make you feel good too.
Here’s your chance.
Tell us something positive that’s happened to you this week. Could be in your professional life. A compliment from a client, a big sale, a bonus, or a promotion.
Or it might be something more personal making you smile today. You’re making a new friend, ordering a new couch, planning a vacation. I’m wide open and eager to hear about it.
Just scroll down to post your comment on the blog and help all of us feel more joy.