Last month, our friend Sam was named not only the Utah State Foreign Language Scholar, but the Utah State General Sterling Scholar– pretty much the highest honor awarded to a high school senior in our fair state. I was absolutely delighted for Sam– whooping with joy and plastering congratulations all over Facebook.
But as proud as I felt of Sam–and I could not be more thrilled if he was my own kid– I was equally delighted by Hans and Xander’s reaction. They told everyone about Sam’s accomplishments, waxed on and on about how much he deserved his accolades and when the newspaper arrived, they fought over who deserved the biggest photo to cut out and hang on their wall (see if you can spot him in the ‘Class Officers Day Off’ video).
Cheering for others successes is one of the most important skills my children can learn.
I’ve always taught my kids, “Don’t be jealous of your siblings. When they succeed it makes you look good too.” It’s true. And it’s easy to see how your brother’s good grades make you look smart and his prowess on the soccer field make you look athletic. But the concept also extends to the entire human family– your good is my good.
People often look at life as a pie– if you get a big slice, there won’t be enough for me. But life truly resembles an eternally replenishing banquet table with enough variety and abundance of good things for all.
This school year, Hans and Xander have spent more time than ever attending football, basketball, hockey and rugby games; debate tournaments, swim meets, tennis matches, plays, art shows and concerts of all kinds. They’ve come to appreciate the many different ways to succeed, to marvel at skills in unheralded arenas. If you are happy for other people, you simply get to be happy more often.
In general, humans tend to be generous with praise for people eating dishes they aren’t interested in, but what if someone reaches for the chocolate eclair you wanted?
Two of my writing friends just landed book deals. I’m delighted for my friends and happy to see their hard work rewarded. Someday, somehow, I’d love to publish a book, but I was anything but jealous when I read their announcements. Their book deal doesn’t mean I won’t ever get one, in fact their success increases my odds because I now have two more friends, two more mentors in the publishing industry. But what if I acted angry and envious? I’d lose those friends and hurt myself as a consequence (I am really just happy for my friends, but I think it makes a great illustration).
Among photographers, cheering for and helping each other simply means good business. I’ve learned dozens of tips while sitting in the Salt Lake Temple photographer’s lounge waiting for my bride and groom. Good photography increases the demand for good photographers; no one needs to fight for clients or backstab each other. In fact, I wouldn’t trust any photographer who isn’t generous with their knowledge. You never know when you’ll get sick and need someone to take your place. You never know when friendliness will lead to an excellent referral.
OK, so photography and writing jobs abound, but what about when someone gets the exact eclair you want? You both run for office and someone else wins. I’ll still argue, a gracious attitude will bring more happiness into your life. Another opportunity will emerge; something good will come your way.
Surprises spring from every corner of the universe. None of us can predict the happinesses waiting in our future. Whenever I hear of someone going on a trip, earning a promotion, fulfilling a dream, I’m giddy for them. And I honestly, truly believe when I rejoice for others, more joy comes my way.
Now, I’m not perfect at this. Sometimes I catch myself feeling jealous and petty and scarcely able to congratulate a friend. When those feelings emerge, I know it’s a warning sign about my spiritual health. For me, envy means I haven’t been praying enough, or reading scriptures or expressing gratitude.
Our friend Chris loves to say, “There’s enough sunshine for everyone.” The sun shines across the whole earth. Everyone experiences clouds and storms, but we know light and warmth will come again. The only way to consistently keep sunshine out of our life, lies in hiding in dark places– retreating into caves and holes and cellars so we don’t have to witness others happiness. There’s enough of the Son for everyone.
One of the sad byproducts of success materializes in resentment from others. Let’s call this the ‘Taylor Swift effect’– hatred for someone just because they’re having a good year (or decade). It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that Taylor Swift, despite (or because of) her beauty, awards, talent and wealth suffers disappointments, heartache and pain. Another quip from our friend Chris, “It’s OK if people hate you. Just make sure it isn’t your fault.” Or as Taylor would say, “haters gonna hate, hate, hate.
Baby I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, Shake it off.”
Hating Taylor will never hurt her, but it will hurt you. Don’t hide in cellar, don’t hide from the sun.
Let’s go back to our friend Sam from the first paragraph. When you ask Sam, “How did you learn all those languages/ learn to write apps/ learn how to do a backflip, etc?”
Every time, he gives the same reply, “I didn’t have any friends, so I had plenty of time to learn things.”
I can pull a dozen life lessons out of his simple statement, but let’s discuss just a few. First, Sam makes it clear everyone struggles; even the most successful people suffer heartache. While he claims he didn’t have friends, Sam never let others opinions determine his worth. He displays humility in attributing his talents to an abundance of free time, but we all know most people don’t use open hours so productively. When life was hard for Sam, he didn’t spend his time resenting others, he didn’t waste energy on envy, he didn’t tear others down, he simply turned and stepped into the sun.