How To Be Happy For Someone (When It’s Hard To)
When I was experiencing infertility, there was one event that was almost guaranteed to ruin my day: Pregnancy announcements. I know it sounds horrible. It felt even worse. A friend would share what was usually the happiest news of her life, and I would glance away from the text or Instagram, or even hang up the phone and cry. I wouldn’t wish infertility on anyone, let alone my friends, and yet their happy news and first-try pregnancies were punch-in-the-gut reminders of the thing I wanted most but I couldn’t have.
“Their happy news and first-try pregnancies were punch-in-the-gut reminders of the thing I wanted most but I couldn’t have.”
I’m not an expert in psychology, but I am a person who recently came out of a deep season of grief. A season in which wonderful things happened to people I loved, and I learned to navigate the coexistence of these truths. I was sad for myself yet I wanted so badly to be happy for them. I didn’t always get it right (or get there at all) but here are a few tips that helped me feel happy for others even when it was hard to.
Check In With Yourself
A mantra that helped me minimize my guilt when I reacted with sadness to someone’s happy news was: “It’s not that I’m not happy for her, I’m just sad for me.” My grief during infertility was so overpowering, it was often the only emotion I could feel. It’s not that you don’t wish the best for the people you love, it’s that you’re so sad, or angry, or heartbroken, that you simply can’t find the room for empathy.
“It’s not that I’m not happy for her, I’m just sad for me.”
In working with a therapist, I quickly learned that “sad woman who hates pregnancy announcements” wasn’t my new identity but I still needed to work through my grief to open up space and energy for emotions outside of it. How? By coming up with an action plan.
For example, If you’re single and don’t want to be, is there an opportunity for changing up your approach to dating or meeting a partner? For me, I knew I wasn’t happy for others because I wanted what my friends had: a baby. I was already taking all the appropriate steps to get and stay pregnant, so my action plan became to work through my grief with a therapist and be gentle with myself in terms of how I was able to show up for my pregnant friends.
Perhaps you’re unhappy in your career and it’s upsetting to chat with a friend who is seemingly being promoted every other month. Setting a boundary can simply be something like: “I’m so happy you’re killing it at work! I’m not feeling like I’m in the best place career-wise, do you mind if we take a break from work chat for [insert time period]?”
“I couldn’t be that person, and every single friend I told understood.”
Your friend deserves someone who will cheerlead her rapid career ladder ascension, and my friends deserved someone who wanted to co-create nursery mood boards on Canva. I couldn’t be that person, and every single friend I told understood. Just like we want to be happy for our friends (and if you’re reading this article, you do!), they want us to feel happy and comfortable in our interactions too.
Congratulate Her Anyway
While it’s important to sit with your feelings, take action toward your own happiness, and set boundaries, your future self will thank you if you act the way you wish you felt. When we don’t feel happy for others, it’s usually coming from a place of temporary unhappiness within ourselves. Always acting from that place won’t make you feel good. Send the flowers, say congratulations, tell your friend you’re thrilled for her — even if you’re not completely there yet.
Accept That Sometimes, You Just Won’t Be Able To Get There
“I let myself sit with the uncomfortable feelings and, like they tend to do, they passed.”
Sometimes, you simply may not be able to feel happiness for someone. I remember one particular pregnancy announcement for which none of my tips or tricks were working — I was bitter, angry, and resentful towards this person. Fortunately, she lived far away and had texted me so I wasn’t put on the spot or made to put on an Oscar-worthy performance in person.
I was able to sit with my feelings, and honestly? This friend never knew and never will know about my reaction and it’s not her business anyway. There was no need for her or anyone else to know how sad I felt hearing her wonderful news. Even if I felt alarmed by my reaction in that moment, I now see in hindsight that my reaction had everything to do with my frustration with my own situation, rather than harboring any ill will towards her. I let myself sit with the uncomfortable feelings and, like they tend to do, they passed.
Remember That Everything Is Temporary
It can be helpful to remember that everyone will experience hardship. Maybe right now you feel like you’ll never be happy again and your best friend just bought a gorgeous house and went on a dreamy beach vacation. Just like you will feel joy again, it’s just as likely your best friend won’t stay on cloud nine forever. The best we can do for the people we love is to support them through the impermanence of both their happiest and saddest moments. As Ram Dass said, “We’re all just walking each other home.”
Be Gentle With Yourself (And With Others)
It’s not a good feeling to hear someone’s great news and experience anything other than joy. It’s also normal and doesn’t make you a bad person. If anything, it can make you more empathetic with time. Eight months ago, after nearly two years of sadness and uncertainty, I gave birth to healthy, gorgeous twin babies. While I may send my mom and sister a zillion pictures and videos weekly, I’m far more aware of my good fortune than I would have been without the experience of infertility. I am more careful about who I complain to about sleepless nights, more conscientious about what I post on social media, and more aware of how sharing stories about my babies might impact others.
“The best we can do for the people we love is to support them through the impermanence of both their happiest and saddest moments.”
I know there are people in my life who probably want to feel joy for me but feel triggered seeing my babies — or another friend’s Michelin-starred dinner or magazine-worthy wedding. Just as I’d encourage you to be gentle with yourself when you’re struggling to feel happiness for others, be patient with others who can’t quite get there for you when you — inevitably — have fabulous things happen to you once again.
Megan Lierley is a writer and editor based in Northern California. She currently leads content for Cora, the women’s wellness company. On any given day, there’s a good chance she’s talking tampons, practicing yoga, writing her weekly culture and current events newsletter, reading a historical fiction novel, or eating a burrito in Dolores Park.