There are few greater feelings in all the world than being certain that someone is happy for you. Because I know well what that feels like, I try to impart that feeling to others as often as I can. Fortunately for me, I know a lot of people who are near-constantly celebrating something wonderful: a publication, a new gig, a marriage. And in expressing unabashed joy for them, I feel joy myself. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow call this Shine Theory, and it’s awesome.
To be real, though — and I talk to my friend Joshunda about this fairly often — sometimes being happy for others is concurrent with working through more complicated feels. She and I don’t pretend we don’t experience twinges, pangs, and on occasion, even full tides of jealousy.
Sometimes, you’ll see someone’s sudden great news in a social media feed and something plummets. It’s a hasty, involuntary reaction and, if you’re not careful, it can take root, bearing shriveled, bitter fruit.
Everyone handles jealousy differently. I’ve gotten fairly practiced at it (Like I said: I know some amazing people). I’ve a formula that’s become almost fail-proof: suppress, interrogate, eradicate. That’s another post for another day.
I’ve taken this long digression to say: you can’t fully enjoy a success if you haven’t developed healthy responses to other people’s success. If you haven’t done that work, your every achievement is comparative. You’re stuck in a miserable loop of: This is good, but it’s not as good as X’s. I’m thrilled but it would be even better if it was more like Y’s. I feel like I’m getting somewhere but not as quickly as Z.
This is me being as real as I can. It doesn’t make sense to pretend that I don’t wish for experiences similar to the ones that people I love and admire have had. It doesn’t do any good to be a writer of autobiographical content and edit out the baser, uglier parts of myself.
Ultimately, what’s important — at the moment of a friend’s highest achievement or deepest bliss — is that she understands your happiness for her, not your internal conflict. That’s something for you to work through privately and, while you do, your friend shouldn’t have to wait for you to feel ready to celebrate.
I don’t know if this is common or if it’s just me. I’ve talked to people who insist that they’re always happy for others in uncomplicated ways; that they never want what anyone else has; that they have mastery over envy or covetousness; that what God has for them, it is for them (and they’re cool with not getting anything they’ve wanted — and equally cool with watching someone else attain and enjoy that thing — because they’re secure in that affirmation). Let me tell you: I find that to be amazing. I am jealous of that.
Yesterday, I had a big moment. I’ve had a lot of big moments this year. I’m learning a lot about those, too, and about how fleeting they are. I’m learning that it’s important to absorb the success on the day of, because in the days that follow, the world moves quickly on. You will either have other big moments or you won’t; but once one has passed, it’s beyond others’ memory. You cannot pitch a tent there. The caravan has carried on.
This makes the celebration all the more significant. The people who decide to join it — and it’s very much a decision — are to be cherished. You do not know what, if anything, they’ve had to work through to be so present and happy for you.
As someone who routinely downplays big moments, so as not to feel like I’m “bragging,” it means a lot to be lauded without reservation. We all need that, but we’re told we should behave as though we don’t.
I’m rambling. The point is: I really felt loved yesterday. I feel loved every day. But yesterday, when I found out I’d be making a television appearance for the first time, and I tweeted about it and posted a status on Facebook, I felt especially loved. Announcing good news has always seemed like a calculated risk for me. You hope it will be received in the non-braggadocious way you intended. But it may not be. You hope it’ll be greeted with the same confetti-swirling, pom-pom-shaking ebullience you try to give to others. But there are no guarantees.
Yesterday’s risk paid off. You were all awesome. There was no tension, no complaint, no side-eyes, no backhanded compliments, no measured or grudging kudos. Everyone I love and everyone I celebrate loved and celebrated me — and that’s exponentially more exciting than being on TV.
That was my day. Today or tomorrow will be yours. And trust: I’ll be losing my voice in the stadium, cheering for you.
If you missed News Nation with Tamron Hall and want to watch the segment on which I appeared, it’s here. If you want to read the essay that got me on air, it’s here. If you need to know more about Avonte Oquendo’s disappearance, read Amy Davidson’s piece in The New Yorker. And if you want to know how you can support the parents of children with autism, visit Autism Speaks.