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Sympathetic Joy

Part 2: Enthusiastic acknowledgement of their successes.

Source: Free-Photos/Pixabay

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 definitions of sympathetic joy are sharing positive feelings with another, looking upon them with favor and harmony, with respect to the successes of another. But when romantic partners fail to make a big deal out of each other’s successes, the couple is more likely to break up or else stay in a less successful relationship. When partners celebrate each other’s accomplishments, they are more likely to be satisfied, committed, enjoying greater love and happiness.

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

What truly enlivens a relationship is when the person who hears of your success is sincerely happy for you and is generous of spirit to the point where he or she shows eagerness to hear more details about your good news. Celebrating the triumphs in life, from the small seemingly trivial ones to those that are more significant strengthens the bond. Being genuinely active in our response to our partner’s good fortune has a weighty impact on them. Consider this small but impactful interchange.

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

Catherine: “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. Tell me about it. I am so proud of you I could pop.”

Catherine is being sincere about her enthusiasm for Jordan’s success, rather than envious and competitive. She is happy to have him 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 Jason to have Catherine rejoice in his good fortune with him is a direct method toward building their trusting bond.

By taking the 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. We can be there in their time of need when dark events happen to be sympathetic and provide a shoulder to cry on. And it is an equally bonding experience to celebrate the successes.

One of the places where romantic partnerships are especially useful is support when difficult life circumstances befall us. The sincere support of our partner softens the blow and helps us to get through it. Each enthusiastic response is a deposit in Karma Savings and Loan. The account becomes abundant with commitment, satisfaction, trust, love, and appreciation. When a difficult challenge comes along, there is a big account to draw on.

It is equally important 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 is a trait that can either be cultivated or starved by becoming aware of its presence. By telling the truth about the negative effect that envy has on our relationship, we are inspired to become more, rather than to attempt to have our partner be less.

Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at the 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.) claims 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 refers to the research that documents couples that fight poorly, criticize, and are jealous. To cease and desist with these toxic destructive behaviors only gets a couple up to neutral.

To pull into the plus category of great relationships, highly positive responses are necessary. That reassuring feeling of support when times are not stressful gives us confidence that when stress inevitably does occur, we can handle it efficiently. Strong enthusiastic support, validating our strengths, is more influential than quiet understated support. But it all counts to create an atmosphere of caring. The frequent genuine positive responses are an essential key to the development of healthy relationships. The findings of her study were that those couples showing the most enthusiastic responses reported the least conflict, the most fun, and all-around satisfaction. All those accumulated positive emotional interchanges serve to build a sturdy foundation on which stable satisfying relationships rest.

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