A Great Way to Expand Your Capacity for Joy

couple-814825_1280And diminish envy at the same time.

“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

Linda: Great relationships are characterized by sympathetic joy. The definition of sympathetic joy, according to Wikipedia, is a translation of 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, looking upon them with favor, and particularly characterized by feelings of respect for the successes of another.

According to Martin Seligman in his book Flourish, there are four possible responses when someone shares something with you about their success: active constructive, passive constructive, passive destructive, and active destructive. If something wonderful happens to you and you share it with someone, the most likely response is a passive constructive response like “That’s nice or congratulations.” Occasionally there is passive destructive response such as being ignored when you share your good news. And what is even more rare is an active destructive which is critical such as “You didn’t earn that promotion.”

What truly enlivens a relationship is an active constructive response, when the person who hears of our success is sincerely happy for us. An active constructive response shows our generosity of spirit and eagerness to hear more details about their good news. Celebrating the triumphs in life, from the small seemingly trivial ones to those that are more significant, strengthens the bond. Being genuinely enthusiastic in our response to our partner’s good fortune has a weighty impact on them. Here’s a good example of an active constructive response.

Jesse: “I’ve been selected to receive an award at the company party because of my leadership and high performance.”

Cassia: “That’s great! You really deserve to be publicly acknowledged. You’ve worked so hard for this. We must bust out a bottle of champagne to celebrate right now. I am so proud of you I could pop. Tell me all about it”

Cassia is being sincere about her enthusiasm about Jesse’s success, rather than envious and competitive. She is happy to have Jesse speak of the details leading up to the good news, how he worked towards 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 with him is a direct method toward building their trusting bond. Cassia’s taking time to show interest in him and his accomplishments shows deep respect.

Great relationships don’t just happen automatically; they occur when we give our time, attention, and care to another. One of the big benefits of romantic partnerships is support when difficult life circumstances befall us. Our partner can be there in our time of need when dark events happen, to be sympathetic and provide a shoulder to cry on. Such sincere support softens the blow and helps us to get through it.

It is an equally bonding experience to celebrate the successes, to have our partner’s vote of confidence when things are going well. We want to know that they are not competitive with us, or envious of our good fortune. We want them to be proud of our achievements, and to celebrate with us to magnify the joy. Envy, by becoming aware of its presence, 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 that awareness to be inspired to become a bigger person, rather than to attempt to have our partner be less.

Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara, in her important article entitled Will You Be There for Me When Things Go Right? (Social Support for Positive Events in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2006, Volume 91, No. 5 904-917 Gable, S. L., Gonzaga, G., & Strachman, A. 2006.) makes the claim 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. Gable speaks about the body of research that documents couples that fight poorly, criticize, and are jealous. The findings of her study were that those couples showing the most enthusiastic responses reported with their relationship, the least conflict, and the most fun and relaxing activities, and the most all around satisfaction.

When romantic partners have not yet appreciated 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 n the relationship, this lack of interest and generosity could lead to a break up. Putting a stop to destructive behaviors such as jealousy and envy only brings a couple up to the neutral zone. To pull into the plus 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, that we, as a couple, can handle it efficiently.

Both the genuineness and frequency of active positive responses are essential to the development of healthy relationships. Each an enthusiastic response is a deposit in Karma Savings and Loan. All those accumulated positive emotional interchanges indeed serve as an account abundant with commitment, satisfaction, intimacy, trust, and appreciation. When the inevitable difficulties come along, there is a big account on 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 to enjoy greater love and happiness.


Linda and Charlie Bloom are excited to announce the release of their third book, Happily Ever After . . . and 39 Other Myths about Love: Breaking Through to the Relationship of Your Dreams.

Picture1Praise for Happily Ever After:

“Love experts Linda and Charlie shine a bright light, busting the most common myths about relationships. Using real-life examples, they skillfully, provide effective strategies and tools to create and grow a deeply loving and fulfilling long-term connection.” – Arielle Ford, author of Turn You Mate into Your Soulmate

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Shared by: Linda Bloom, LCSW, & Charlie Bloom, MSW, Contributing Bloggers