How to be Happy For Other People

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Illustration for article titled How to Be Happy for Other People

Photo: Paul Bradbury/Getty Images (Getty Images)

With the United States’ total student debt bill on a perpetual climb every year, and now totaling a staggering $1.5 trillion, leaders in the Democratic party are reportedly toying with an idea that could offer borrowers at least a partial respite from the sometimes ruinous burden of student debt.

According to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, president-elect Joe Biden could forgive the first $50,000 of every borrower’s total debt via executive order within his first 100 days in office. For many without student debt, this sounds like a decent and moral thing to do. For a generation of financially beleaguered college grads, many of whom are navigating the country’s second major economic downturn in less than fifteen years, it would undeniably be a cause for celebration.

For Damon Linker, however, a columnist at The Week and a lecturer at Penn University, the news strikes a starkly negative tone. In a tweet today, Linker argues that scrubbing $50k from anyone’s loan bill would infuriate borrowers who had to work extra hard to pay off their own debt, and likewise non-college graduates who’ve never been wrapped up in this country’s spiraling student debt crisis.

Aside from being a silly take and a wholly unoriginal idea, Linker’s sentiment only views the transformative potential of student loan forgiveness within the confines of political gamesmanship. More importantly, though, his tweet manages to permeate a larger conversation about life that doesn’t even apply to student debt or debates on Capitol Hill: how to be happy for other people.

What prevents people from being happy for others?

In order to understand how we can be happy for others—even if we’re not materially or emotionally benefitting from their success—it’s probably best to understand what prevents people from showcasing happiness for others.

Generally, feelings of jealousy can cloud your ability to feel good for other people. “Jealousy is often a protective strategy fueled by more vulnerable feelings, such as worthlessness or feelings of inadequacy,” wrote psychotherapist Rachel Noel on an advice forum in Good Therapy. If you’re feeling bitter or harboring resentment about a group of people who may be euphoric, it’s likely there’s a larger psychological issue at play, like a diminished self-worth.

Remove yourself from the equation

You can allow others to revel in good news by removing yourself from the equation. Many people struggle with interpreting things too personally (I definitely do) but it’s crucial to understand that someone else’s success is usually never achieved in spite of anyone else.

As Psych Central’s managing editor Sara Newman writes:

The success of others isn’t personal. It wasn’t done to spite you. It costs nothing to remove your own desires from the equation and feel relief and happiness for another person. In the end, acknowledging the fact that things are going well for other people compiles evidence that things will probably work out for you, too.

Acknowledge you can be inspired by the success of others

Even if you’re jealous of the victorious party, you can use that feeling as fuel for your personal fire. Dr. Kerry Schofield, co-founder and chief of psychometrics at Good&Co., told NBC News how this can work in practice:

Instead of focusing on our lack of success, we can see our friend’s achievement as inspirational. If he or she did it, so can we – our time will come! We can be proactive and evaluate how and why our friend was able to be successful, and see if there are ways we can apply this knowledge to improve our own lives.

In this sense, the thought of billions of dollars in student debt vanishing into the ether can be seen as a precedent to push for more substantive reform, especially when it comes to broader inequity in the United States.

Try being more grateful for what you already have

You’re far less likely to resent someone else’s accomplishment or success if you feel good about the things in your own life, or at least recognize what advantages you have.

If you’re someone like Linker, who has a good job at an Ivy League university and the platform of a columnist at a nationally-syndicated magazine, you can try considering those circumstances a privilege, and feel grateful for them. That attitude, at least in theory, is likely to help you recognize that people escaping financial oblivion is a cause to cheer.

 

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