May 20, 2024

Cheering from the Front Row: The Power of Celebrating Friends’ Successes



If you’re too tired to read, you can listen to this on Apple or Spotify.

In a world where jealousy often overshadows joy, be the disrupter who champions the successes of others. This blog post delves into the profound impact of celebrating your friends’ achievements on their lives and yours. Discover the science behind why happiness for others boosts your emotional health and how shifting from envy to empathy can transform your personal and social dynamics. 

Over the past few weeks, four of my closest friends have had some big wins in their lives. One was accepted into an Ivy League professional program, one was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, and the other two got licensed to become foster parents after a very tedious process.

When each of them told me of these significant accomplishments, I got so excited that it may as well have happened to me! These individuals are my chosen family, and I feel all the feelings when something happens to them, good or bad.

When I was writing my first book, I would send them excerpts and word counts of my daily progress. Looking back, I’m sure they were mildly annoyed, but they always offered cheerful support. Writing is tedious and solitary, so I felt motivated to keep clicking away when they gave me feedback and affirmation. When my book was published and I returned to my hometown for the launch and signing, they showed up. I didn’t send formal invitations or ask them to come – they were just there. 

Empathy plays a role in feeling happiness for others because of our mirror neurons. They fire when we feel genuine joy when good things happen to the people we care about, potentially helping us share in their emotions. 

I started contemplating the friendships in my life, and I realized that we don’t call out their value enough. The sad but interesting part is that I’ve spent more time commiserating over the people in my life who haven’t helped celebrate the wins or those who have gone out of their way to sabotage and harm. I’ve spent a lifetime learning the lesson: “Just because they are in your circle does not mean they are in your corner.” [Read that again]. We tend to linger on what we’ve lost instead of appreciating what we have. 

My son’s college roommate recently fulfilled his dream of performing on Broadway. He learned there was a group chat where some petty and small-minded former college theatre pals decided to boycott his show. He was perplexed that whatever grievances they harbored from college followed them into adulthood. When I learned about this, I could see it so clearly. 

The social comparison theory reared its ugly head out of pure envy and wishing they were making their Broadway debut. People determine their social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others. For some, seeing others succeed can trigger feelings of jealousy or inadequacy rather than happiness. Think about how often this happens in your life. When you meet a new love, become infatuated, and discover someone from your inner circle who is not exactly thrilled for you. Or if you alter your life by changing your habits and committing to a healthy lifestyle, not everyone is cheering for you. In fact, these positive life trajectories are what cause the most resentment from those we least expect. I know a woman who was determined to lose weight and committed to doing it. She hadn’t seen one of her closest friends in a few months, so when she showed up 20 lbs. lighter when they met for coffee, she was shocked at her friend’s reaction. Her friend made a snarky comment and never said anything positive about her transformation. 

Her friend’s lack of support reveals a lot. I believe that self-esteem is at the root of everything. Those with higher self-esteem and a secure sense of self are more likely to feel genuinely happy for others because other’s accomplishments don’t threaten their self-worth. Of course, sometimes we feel inadequate because we want to be on Broadway, fall in love, lose weight, or get promoted. It’s hard to watch other people achieve when we are struggling. That’s perfectly normal to feel a sense of envy. But instead of causing resentment, it should be a motivator to work harder. It’s even better to see the achiever as an inspiration of what is possible. 

To reconcile those in your circle who aren’t cheering audibly for you, perhaps it’s easier to believe that they are celebrating in silence. Sometimes, people may feel happy for others but struggle to express it outwardly due to their insecurities or current situations. For your peace of mind, it might help to acknowledge that support doesn’t always look the same. This is wishful thinking, but extending grace might help you in this scenario. 

There is an even uglier phenomenon where people take pleasure in the misfortune of others. You can empathize with friends who are feeling sorry for themselves when you are winning, but to take pleasure when something terrible happens to someone else is next-level psychotic. This is known as schadenfreude and relates to deep-seated feelings of insecurity and competition. If you discover this phenomenon from a person in your life, cut ties immediately—addition by subtraction.

It’s hard to predict that you’ve got a person in your circle who is either unhappy with your wins or secretly wants you to fail. People don’t generally reveal their true selves until you are already vested in a relationship with them. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to getting to know a person. You must go through seasons with them before fully understanding a person’s character.

What I’d tell my son’s roommate is the same thing I’ve had to say to myself so many times: It’s essential to practice resilience in the face of these challenges. You don’t need to play small or downplay your wins because others cannot handle it. Dimming your light doesn’t serve you or the world. And living well is genuinely the best remedy. Besides, you will never be criticized by someone who is doing more than you. You will only be criticized by someone doing less. [Read that again].

Use these experiences as opportunities for self-reflection so you never become that person. If you feel the ugly green monster taking over, it’s a great way to lean into those feelings and attempt to understand them. Your reactions to others’ successes and failures can provide insights into what buckets are empty in your life that you need to figure out how to fill. Once you feel yourself going down that road, you can become your own disrupter by shifting your mindset from comparison to celebration. You will begin seeing friends’ successes as inspirations rather than threats. 

This should also highlight the value of cultivating a circle of friends who support and uplift one another. Your truly supportive friends will keep cheering you on and showing up in the front row of your life. Receiving such a gift is a great reminder of the importance of being that kind of friend to others. 

If that isn’t enough, research shows that positive social interactions and being genuinely happy for others improve your mental health, build emotional resilience, and are attributed to longer life expectancy. In other words, emotions like resentment, jealousy, and loathing are poison to the beholder. Not to mention, the person to whom you’re directing these emotions is so busy living their best life with nary a thought about what you’re harboring, so it’s only harming you. 

Sometimes, your glow-up will be hard for some people to watch. Glow anyway. And be the kind of person who shares their light with others, illuminating the potential in everyone around you. True strength lies in igniting and uplifting others. 

This tweet from @StevenKlenk sums everything up perfectly: 

“I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a million times… I love watching my friends win.”

Onward and upward, my fellow disrupters.


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