It’s not the bad times that reflect the quality of our relationships; it’s the good times that show us who we are… and who we’re really with.
Now, I’m all for an attitude of “let the good times roll,” especially on vacation and, wherever possible, in small and spontaneous measure. We all work too hard, carry too much stress, and don’t spend enough time just enjoying each other in little ways.
And yes, I plead guilty on this score.
However, when this article entitled “How to Be Charming: 2 Secrets Backed by Research” informs us that responses to good times are more important than responses to bad, I find myself questioning the parameters and methodology of any such study, or, at the very least, the phrasing of its conclusion as I grit my teeth, mutter under my breath, and try to steady my suddenly bobbling-wobbling head.
If You’re Happy and You Know It…
In what is actually an intriguing article on contemporary culture, neuroscience, happiness, and envy, Eric Barker reminds us that
… psychology offers plenty of help with learning the things you can do to send signals that you’re thrilled for someone’s success.
In other words, whether or not we truly feel happy for someone else, we can “express” happiness when required. However, citing a “charisma expert,” we are also told to bear in mind that we give away our true feelings through micro-expressions as well as body language. So, it’s important that we do everything we can to genuinely feel happy for the other person — and convey it.
I can’t help but hear “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…” — an irritating ditty if ever there was one, that will no doubt replay in my head throughout the day as I recall the time when we truly knew nothing but expressing what we genuinely felt. Alas, they call that early childhood.
And of course, we have our movie versions of truth-telling to look to — anyone for Liar, Liar? — clearly indicating that a little polite convention goes a long way in the real world…
Ah, Envy… (Ah, Schadenfreude…)
Envy? Uh-huh. Given that we all spend so much time promoting ourselves these days, so much time judging by the self-promoted images of others, and potentially tons of time feeling badly about ourselves — isn’t envy unavoidable?
Schadenfreude? Ah yes. Pleasure from the misfortune of others. How could we not feel a tiny bit better about our lives, when we hear that someone else’s (seemingly) shiny success story has run into a bump in the road? Doesn’t this allow us, in comparison, to feel good about ourselves?
The Time article points out that the human brain is wired to ferry us to the dark side — it’s all about the human animal in us and the ability to survive — so we shouldn’t feel badly that envy comes naturally. It’s how readily we can sincerely set that envy aside and fully support, celebrate, and encourage our spouses, significant others, siblings, children and besties — as they grab the brass ring, and we stand on the sidelines.
And the more content we are with our own lives, the more “whole” we are as people, the easier it is to be happy for the happiness of those we love.
All that? I buy it. And most of us are pleased as punch to fête the one we love in a moment of glory — the new job just nabbed, the research grant awarded, the 30-pound weight loss achieved, the patent that comes through…
On the other hand, if he or she is one to gloat? If he or she never gives you a nod, and you’ve been part of their success, working behind the scenes?
Yup. Telling. But not your response. Theirs.
Still, I can’t say I find the “celebrate my good times” side of the equation to be more significant in reflecting the quality of a relationship than the “stick it out through troubled times” aspect. It seems to me that how we face adversity reflects the nature of our character. The partner who can let the good times roll but not roll up his sleeves for the dirty work isn’t a partner I admire. Isn’t this why it’s so important to allow relationships to take their time? So we see how we’ll weather our storms together?
Tolerance for Adversity
In all fairness, it’s hard to say why some manage adversity better than others. And I’m hesitant to pass judgment of any sort on those who simply cannot bear to be around the sick, by way of simplistic example. Some of us are squeamish; it’s how we are. We can’t explain it. (I’m not so good with blood, myself. However did I manage to raise two rambunctious boys?)
Curious about this notion of “tolerance for adversity,” I found relatively little as I ran a few searches. There were mentions of “tolerance for adversity and uncertainty” with regard to expeditions into the wilderness, and tolerance for adversity in a business or leadership context. These weren’t what I was after. A little related searching brought me closer — to discussions of stress tolerance, mental toughness, and psychological resilience — all of these, fascinating subjects.
Still, they’re not quite what I was seeking to explore, and that’s this: Why are some people “in it” with us? Why do some people stay when the going gets tough, and others run — no matter how much they’re needed?
To a degree, I suppose we could all answer that question by glibly referring to something in the individual’s psychological makeup, in their childhood experience, and in their temperament or personality that says “I can’t” or “I won’t,” as they exit Stage Left.
Yes indeed. Buried in that superficial sentence is the reality of the store of experiences that each of us carries — our traumas and our triggers; our lessons, our fears, our perceptions. What is “normal relationship friction” to one may seem toxic to the other. What is tolerable for two months may be intolerable for six. What is sustainable as a couple when both are under stress may be far less than if only one is struggling.
Relationships are messier than any pronouncement would suggest. Moreover, how many of us reveal the entirety of our histories and motivations to anyone — even to our most intimate partners?
Let the good times roll?
You bet. Bring ’em on! The more, the better! Depending on the scenario, our happiness is greatly expanded by the happiness of those we love — our family, our friends, our romantic partners — no “faking it” required, and all micro-expressions neatly aligned with our genuine delight.
Unable to share in the triumphs of those who are closest to you?
Yup. There’s a problem. There’s also a reason for your problem. Or several. Some of it may be you, some of it may be the other party. But the extent to which you’re unable to share the win, regardless of the reasons, is likely a determinant of your future together.
Returning to Mr. Barker’s article, “benign envy” isn’t all bad. Think about it. Isn’t a small dose potentially motivating? Besides, even if we find ourselves returning to the dark side, remember:
Sometimes we aren’t as enthusiastic about others’ good fortune as we’d like to think. Don’t blame yourself. We’re wired that way.
Still, if you ask me, the premise that how you handle good times is more important than how you handle bad simply doesn’t make sense. Your approach to good times aside, if you can’t be there through the hard times in a helpful way?
End of story.
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