a rising tide lifts all boats

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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.






  1. Kerri

    April 22, 2015

    Michelle, I love this attitude. I try to cultivate it, too, and I have found that being honestly happy for others’ successes gets easier and easier as I practice. I spent Monday night listening to a dear friend play a concerto with an orchestra, and felt nothing but a huge thrill for her and gratitude that she is my friend. Sometimes it’s really nice to be older and figure out that we might just be a titch wiser than we used to be, since twenty years ago I would probably have been a little envious. I love that your kids are learning this fantastic skill earlier than I did.

  2. Laurel C.

    April 23, 2015

    I love this line of yours: “If you are happy for other people, you simply get to be happy more often.” Makes complete sense, but I’d never thought of that before. Thank you for these words.

  3. Michelle

    April 23, 2015

    What a truly wise person you are Michelle….these beautiful words speak to me and inspire me daily. “If you are happy for other people, you simply get to be happy more often.” I am suffering through very difficult health challenges…and sometimes do lose perspective and motivation. I just keep on looking for the positive light all around me…and other’s happiness keeps me going!

  4. Kayci

    April 23, 2015

    This is so wonderful and perfect timing! I needed this. Such a good reminder of something that is so easy to overlook or not think about. Thank you

  5. Rosalyn

    April 23, 2015

    Michelle, I love this so much. As a high achiever, I struggled a lot with envy during high school (so much so, that it wasn’t until my mission that I realized I needed to address it, with one friend in particular. I wrote about it in the New Era: https://www.lds.org/new-era/2004/08/instant-messages?lang=eng). Now, I try to genuinely rejoice when other people succeed–it makes my life so much better. But it’s been a hard lesson to learn. Kudos to your sons for learning this so well!

  6. jen

    April 24, 2015

    Thank you again for raising your boys to be good men! And my serious congrats to Sam.

  7. Jennifer

    April 24, 2015

    Beautifully written! This is one (more) of your posts that I will share with my children, as it is full of kindness and wisdom.

    I would love to see you publish a book of all your posts….it would sit on our coffee table for all to read and hopefully spark some serious thoughts and changes. Keep writing…for me.

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