Have you ever had this moment: You’re scrolling through Facebook, seeing everyone’s perfect pictures they posted, and you ‘like’ a bunch of them, but you start to get a gross feeling of jealousy and inadequacy and anger at the fact that everyone else has it better than you? Why is it sometimes hard to be genuinely happy for other people? Instead, we often turn someone else’s celebration into a comparison against ourselves- how much we have, what/how many friends we have, where we’ve been, where we’re going, etc. I’ve found in most conversations with people, what we tend to do is take what someone else is sharing with us or asking us about, chew on it, mix in our own opinions and experiences, and spit it back out (not my best illustration but there it is). To me, when this happens it feels like the conversation is just two people talking at each other instead of with each other. Like, if I have something I’ve been struggling with, and then someone else tries to talk to me about what they’re going through, I tend to mix in what I’m struggling with into my responses. Anyone else relate to that? Instead of really listening and responding just to what they’ve said based on their own context, it becomes ‘Yeah when that happened to me, such and such,’ or ‘If that happened to me, I’d…’ blah blah blah. And to an extent I think that’s how we’re programmed to be, because we can’t always totally put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, and what they’re dealing with might not even seem like a big deal to us based on our values and outlook, so we just translate it into something that we can relate to.
Unfortunately, this sometimes turns into me hearing or seeing someone else’s amazing news and feeling badly about it. There’s that momentary celebration, and deep down I know it’s good news for them, but I can quickly turn it into a negative reflection on how they have what I want and it’s not fair. But the thing is, even if someone does have something I want on a surface level, the fact that they got it before me doesn’t in any way mean I’m not as good of a person, as deserving, as smart, as chosen, or anything like that. The real kicker is even if I never get the great thing someone else gets, that still doesn’t negate the value and beauty of my story. And I think a huge piece, at least for me, of finding happiness where I am and living a life free from shame and fear of missing out and just general fear of doing things wrong, is really soaking in that understanding that my story, my path, the order of events in my particular lifetime on this earth, is special and has purpose in a way that isn’t determined by what other people have. That’s kind of complicated, because I believe other people’s victories and hurts and successes and lessons definitely enrich and influence my life. The problem just comes in when I place a value judgement on how what I have, and what I’ve accomplished, and in what order all those things happen, compares to them.
I want to be someone who genuinely, deeply, feels for other people, regardless of whether I’m having a happy day myself. Regardless of my relationship status, I want to be truly happy for my friends who are dating and engaged and married. And on the flip side of that, I want to mourn with my friends who are in a tough place with a relationship even if I am content with all of mine. Regardless of my family background, I want to be able to celebrate friends who have a traditional upbringing and to mourn with those who have a difficult past and/or present family situation. As I typed and re-read that, I realized those things can be flipped too- there are times when a ‘traditional’ upbringing is not something someone looks back on fondly, and there are times (a lot, for me) when the more difficult or ‘unusual’ things in someone’s past shaped them in a positive way and can be celebrated. But anyway what I’m aiming for is basically the equivalent of the runner up of a major competition instantly smiling, without that flit of disappointment dancing across her expression, and running up to the winner to hug and congratulate her or him.
I recently saw an article giving suggestions for how a recently engaged (and I’m assuming millennial) person should announce her or his engagement on social media in a way that is sensitive to single friends, and this just egged on what I’ve been thinking- not only do we make the judgement ourselves, we know other people do it when they see our stuff. How people do/should share their relationship status on social media is a whole other discussion, but I thought the content of the article was interesting and just shows the time we are living in, that we know people will be able to see our every announcement and might have a certain reaction to it. And I appreciate people wanting to be sensitive to their single friends who might be tired of all the engagement posts, but at the same time, it makes me sad that it indicates that so many of us take those joyful announcements of other people and reflect them onto ourselves instead of being able to be freely react in a way that is supportive of them.
Is it possible to do that, to separate our situation and our happiness from that of others? Should it be? From what I’ve learned so far in life, I’ve come to the conclusion that part of my being called to selflessly love and serve others is striving to be happy or sad for others without transposing my own situation on it. It’s ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn’ (Romans 12:15) on a moment-by-moment, daily basis. Which is sometimes really hard work. I think I’m a pretty sympathetic and empathetic person because of what I’ve experienced so far in life, and because of my base personality, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m always able to put myself in others’ shoes. We sometimes have to actively fight our selfish tendencies, especially when it comes to emotional situations. I’d like to work on finding ways to support people where I can use my experiences and perspective to encourage and affirm, without making it about me. Because our experiences and the background we are bringing to a situation are kind of stuck to us- we aren’t robots who aren’t impacted by anything, those experiences shape our future actions a lot of the time. But I think there are ways I could do better (and things I’ve witnessed in others’ behavior that rubbed me the wrong way) in terms of meeting someone where they are and serving them there.
I find that especially when people are facing hard times it’s kind of a puzzle to figure out how to react and respond if the right solution isn’t really clear. Instead of changing the subject to something similar that I went through, or explaining what I would do if I were you, maybe I can ask more questions. Maybe we can all get better at sitting in silence sometimes, not feeling like we need an immediate answer to everything. This is really hard for me because it’s definitely a pride point for me to offer people advice and answers and feel like I helped. But in reality, there are a lot of moments where no one really knows what the best way forward is, and none of us truly know what’s best for someone else, because we aren’t in their shoes. And I’ve found great beauty and connection in moments where someone sat with me in a dark time and didn’t try to give an immediate resolution. There’s something special that happens when we are present with one another in the moments of deep pain, of questioning what to do, and just have that mutual shrugged-shoulders stance and accept that we don’t have the answer right now. To me it leads to the subsequent feeling of knowing, even if things don’t get brighter immediately, or if I don’t have a strong sense of direction in a situation yet, that someone is going to be there for me either way. I think being able to be there for someone, to be said with them or to be happy with them, gives us more opportunity to grow our own understanding of human weakness and strength and perseverance. And there’s opportunity to experience freedom in our own lives when we aren’t measuring whatever’s happening to us against what’s happening to those around us.
I’m in a stage of life where my peers are doing a wide range of things- building careers, attending grad school, taking gap years, traveling, living at home, searching for work, finishing undergrad. A whole lot of us are wondering what’s next- how will a career pan out, how long until we can try something else, how long until school is over, how long until we’re out of debt, how long until marriage, how long until kids, etc. That’s true for all of life, right? We don’t really know what’s around the next corner, and usually when we think we do, even when we plan it down to the detail, we usually get thrown for a loop. And I kind of love that about life. I’m really enjoying being at an age and surrounded by certain people where I get to watch such a variety of life paths play out. I get to celebrate friends’ degrees, marriages, promotions, new callings, and successful moves. I also get to mourn failures with some of them, loss of one dream in pursuit of another, growing apart from some relationships, and other difficulties. I say ‘get to’ for both the positives and the negatives because I’m finding it an incredible privilege to walk alongside people who are thriving and people who are struggling simultaneously; it reminds me of the general ebb and flow that life will always find. If I’m in a moment of doubt or fear, I can look to someone nearby who is absolutely killing it and be reminded there is a new opportunity tomorrow or next year, and I am promised a fruitful life if I persevere. If I’m in a moment of absolute bliss thinking life could not be better, I can be reminded by someone struggling nearby that I am not promised a perfect and easy life, and that harder seasons will come, but it will be okay because I’ll have blissful moments mixed in too.
One of my favorite parts of being human is getting to relate to others, to be pulled out of a rut by them, to pull them out of ruts, and getting to celebrate with them the many different victories we experience. Because having those hard times alone would really suck, and having the great times alone would also suck. I want to press into this more by actively seeking to affirm and celebrate other people’s joy and success and to affirm and mourn other people’s hard seasons. I think doing so in a way that doesn’t constantly compare their situation to mine is a pretty good path toward feeling connected, at the very least. And more than that, there’s a possibility that their joy can rub off on me when I’m in a hard season. Their struggling can give me perspective, remind me not to take life for granted, and call me back to sit in the trenches with those who are hurting and broken instead of running the opposite direction trying to keep my happy bubble intact. Because I’d want someone to do that for me.
The thing is, sitting with others where they are, feeling for them, does not mean we have to let go of our own stuff. It means acknowledging that other things are going on in the world outside of ourselves, and acknowledging that the experiences of others have just as much importance as our own. It just means setting aside your own stuff for a little bit and giving someone else center stage. You can celebrate with someone and still be sad about the loss you’re enduring. You can mourn with someone and still have room in your day to be grateful for what you’re happy about. But by trying to empathize with them without comparing your own situation, you can be a better listener, a better responder, and show them that their situation is valid and worthy of a witness and supporter. And I think everyone would benefit from attempting to be a little less self-focused.
Oof! It’s been a while since I finished a piece, and this one doesn’t feel quite finished but it’s time for me to stop fearing the ‘Publish’ button. If you’ve read this far, thank you. I like to end on a lighthearted note especially when a post gets a bit heavy, so here are some things:
Song of the week: Angela by The Lumineers. Their ability to tell a story with an amazing melody and artfully shout in songs is incredible. If you have 25 minutes and want to see a really creative narrative music video, watch this.
Advice for the week: Read a book for fun. I’m reading Harry Potter and it is incredible. It is helping me turn off social media and it’s reminding me how big the world is when you factor in all the fictional worlds people have created and shared with us.
Goal for the week: Park far and walk to work at least twice.
High five for the week: I started to deep clean and organize my room. It’s been 5 months since I moved in, and everything is starting to have its place. This is serving as a really valuable self-care opportunity, to create a clean and peaceful place to come home to, and to hopefully prevent some frustrated shuffling through every drawer to find something I know I brought with me but haven’t touched since moving. It’s also a chance to reassess what I really need and what I use versus what I have.