“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, which derives from 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 and looking upon them with favor, and is particularly characterized by feelings of respect for the successes of another person.
Linda and Charlie Bloom are considered experts in the field of relationships. They have been married since 1972. They have both been trained as seminar leaders, therapists and relationships counselors and have been working with individuals, couples, and groups since 1975. They have been featured presenters at numerous conferences, universities, and institutions of learning throughout the country and overseas as well.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
According to Martin Seligman's book Flourish, there are four possible responses when someone shares news about a success with you—active constructive; passive constructive; passive destructive; and active destructive. If something wonderful happens to you and you share it with someone, their most likely response is passive constructive—“That’s nice," or "Congratulations.” Occasionally there is passive destructive response such as being ignored when you share your news. A critical, or active destructive response is rare—“You didn’t earn that promotion.”
What truly enlivens a relationship, though, is an active constructive response, when the person who hears about our success is sincerely happy for us. An active constructive response shows generosity of spirit and eagerness to hear more about the good news. Celebrating triumphs in life, from small, seemingly trivial ones to those that are more significant, strengthens the bond between two people. Being genuinely enthusiastic in responding to a partner’s good fortune can have a positive impact on them. Here’s a good example:
Jesse: “I’m being given an award at the company party because for leadership and high performance.”
Cassia: “That’s great! I am so proud of you. You’ve worked so hard and you deserve to be acknowledged. Let's bust out a bottle of champagne to celebrate, and you can tell me all about it!”
Cassia is sincere in her enthusiasm about Jesse’s success, rather than envious or competitive. She is happy to have him talk about the details leading up to the good news, how he worked toward 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 is a way to build their trusting bond. And her taking the time to show interest in him and his accomplishments shows deep respect.
Great relationships don’t just happen. They occur when we give our time, attention, and care to another. One of the great benefits of romantic partnerships is support when difficult circumstances befall us. A partner can be there in our time of need, be sympathetic, and provide a shoulder to cry on. Such sincere support softens upsetting blows and helps us get through challenging times.
It is an equally bonding experience to celebrate successes and have our partner’s vote of confidence when things go well. We want to know our partner is not competitive with us or envious of our good fortune. We want them to be proud of our achievements, and celebrate with us to magnify the joy. Envy, the opposite of this shared joy, 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 this awareness to become a bigger person, rather than to attempt to make our partner be less.
Shelly Gable, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, claims in an important article from 2006 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. She discusses a body of research that documents couples who fight poorly, criticize, and are jealous. Her study found that people who show the most enthusiasm for their partner's achievements have the least conflict in their relationship, enjoy more fun and relaxing activities, and have the most relationship satisfaction.
When romantic partners do not appreciate the impact of sympathetic joy, they fail to make a big deal out of each other’s successes. These couples are more likely to stay in a less successful relationship. Combined with other flaws in the relationship, this lack of interest and generosity could lead to a breakup. Putting a stop to destructive behaviors such as jealousy and envy brings a couple up to the neutral zone; to move into the category of great relationships, highly positive responses that promote understanding, validation, and caring are necessary. The reassuring feeling of support when times are not stressful gives us confidence that when stress inevitably does occur, we can handle it efficiently, as a couple.
The genuineness and frequency of active positive responses are essential to the development of healthy relationships. Each enthusiastic response is a deposit in Karma Savings and Loan. The accumulated positive emotional interchanges serve as an account abundant with commitment, satisfaction, intimacy, trust, and appreciation. When difficulties come along, we have a large account from 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 enjoy greater love and happiness.