What is joy? And how to cultivate it.

When Eugenie George learned that her friend had passed a financial advisor exam, her heart sank. She had failed the same test weeks earlier and needed proof to further her career.

“My inner child was upset,” recalled Ms. George, a Philadelphia financial writer and educator. But then, instead of stewing, she called her friend: “I told her I failed and admitted I was jealous,” she said. Ms. George knew that being outspoken would allay her envy, but she was surprised when it shifted her attitude so that she could share her friend’s happiness in exchange for her own. “I congratulated her and told her she inspired me.”

Finding joy in another person’s happiness is what social scientists call Freude, a German term that describes the happiness we feel when someone else succeeds, even if it doesn’t affect us directly. Joy is like social glue, said Catherine Chambliss, a professor of psychology at Ursinus College. It makes relationships “more intimate and enjoyable.”

Erika Weisz, empathy researcher and postdoctoral researcher in psychology at Harvard University, said feeling is very similar to positive empathy — the ability to experience another’s positive emotions. A small 2021 study examined the role of positive empathy in daily life and found that it drives acts of kindness, such as B. to help others. Sharing another’s joy can also foster resilience, improve life satisfaction, and help people work together during conflict.

While the benefits of joy are plentiful, it’s not always easy. In zero-sum situations, your loss can really sting and make joy seem unattainable. If you grew up in a family where winning comes with self-worth, you might mistake someone else’s victory for a personal failing, said Dr. Chambliss. And factors like mental health and general well-being can also affect your ability to share in the joy of others. Still, it’s worth giving in to the joy of joy — and there are ways to encourage that feeling.

To understand joy better, it can help to demystify its more familiar counterpart, Schadenfreude: the joy we feel when we witness someone’s unhappiness.

In a 2012 study, Dr. Chambliss and her colleagues measured levels of joy and glee in college students, some with mild depression and some not. In those who were not depressed, happiness scores were higher and schadenfreude scores were lower. However, the mildly depressed college students had a harder time adopting a joy-sharing attitude. “When you’re feeling down, it’s natural to accompany positive news with negativity,” explained Dr. Chambliss.

Even when people aren’t experiencing psychological distress, moments of glee, like when a movie villain gets his comeuppance or a nemesis comes under scrutiny, can be comforting and serve a purpose.

“Schadenjoy is one way we try to deal with jealousy and vulnerability,” said clinical psychologist Emily Anhalt, co-founder of Coa, a mental health app. It is an “ego protector” that protects people from pain and strengthens social bonds within a group, like when sports fans erupt in joy after their rival suffers a humiliating loss.

However, too much gloating can backfire. One study found that gloating on social media can chill empathy, making people less compassionate toward those who are different from them. Other research suggests that taking pleasure in the mishaps of others can actually lower a person’s self-esteem, especially when comparing themselves to high achievers.

“Empathy isn’t always an automatic reflex,” said Dr. white “It’s often a motivated process.” To help people strengthen the pleasure-sharing muscles, Drs. Chambliss and her colleagues developed a program called Joyfulness Enhancement Training (FET) that includes two exercises. They found that depressed college students who did the exercises for two weeks found it easier to express happiness, which improved their relationships and mood.

If you’re interested in enjoying a little more joy, try some of the tips below, sourced from FET and other experts.

One way to elicit good feelings for others is to ask questions. dr Chambliss and her colleagues call this FET practice “SHOY,” or sharing joy.

First, invite the bearer of the good news to share their experience. Even if your heart isn’t in it, research by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a University of California Riverside psychology professor who studies happiness, suggests that happiness can flourish when you make a heartfelt effort to focus on a positive one allow activity.

So when you’re talking to your friend, make eye contact and listen to their story. It motivates you to keep going and makes you feel like your efforts will pay off.

“When we are happy for others, their happiness becomes our happiness,” said psychologist Marisa Franco, author of Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make – and Keep – Friends. To this end, freudenfreude encourages us to view success as a community effort.

“No one gets to the top alone, and when we elevate others, we’re often carried up with them,” said Dr. stop.

Jean Grae, an artist and self-proclaimed “multipotentialist,” supports friends and colleagues in embracing this mindset. When someone gets a new opportunity or hits a milestone, she makes sure to celebrate it, she explained. As a non-binary person of color, Grae said she’s moved when someone deemed “different” succeeds. “It’s really inspiring because it lifts us all up and makes us shine.”

Because emotions are contagious, showing appreciation can increase the joy of both the gratitude-giver and the gratitude-receiver. In this way, you can think of joy as something that you can spread when you experience personal joy.

To do this, try a FET exercise called “Bragitude,” where you express gratitude when someone else’s success or support leads to your own. Start by sharing your winnings, then tell the other person how they helped. For example, if your friend’s accountant advised you to waste more money, you might say, “My savings are growing, thanks for recommending your great accountant.”

Practicing boasting is like sharing a dessert: both parties enjoy the sweetness of the moment, increasing the joyfulness of both.

“Too often we passively think about joy,” said Dr. Franco. “We see it as something that comes to us, rather than something that we can generate.” But you don’t have to wait for someone else’s good news to show joy, she explained.

Cultivate joy by inviting others to share their victories. You might ask, “What was the bright spot of your day?” or “I could use some good news. What’s the best thing that happened to you this week?” Asking about other people’s wins turns you into a happy viewer, giving you a chance to see them at their best.

Experiencing more joy doesn’t mean you’ll never fight a villain again, but being able to reach for happiness is inherently beneficial. “As delicious as it is to rejoice in the defeats of our enemies, celebrating the successes of our friends – big and small – helps us all triumph in the end,” said Dr. Chambliss.

Juli Fraga is a psychologist and writer based in San Francisco.


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