Why does other people’s happiness make us uncomfortable?

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In the introduction of her latest book Life & Love, author and entrepreneur Lisa Messenger has a confession – she’s happy, pretty much every single day.

Lisa Messenger chooses to be positive about life. Photo: supplied.
Lisa Messenger.

 

As I perched on the edge of a bar stool, at my friend’s hen do, I struggled to tune into the conversation of her work colleagues. I hadn’t met these women before, but I’d heard from my friends they were all married and all successful. Yet, for the past 20 minutes all I’d heard from their mouths was a cacophony of complaints. In fact, they appeared to be in a battle of one-upmanship to see whose life was the worst.

So far the dialogue had gone something like this: “Oh, I’m sooo stressed, I’ve been working 15-hour days.” “That’s nothing, I’ve barely slept in weeks and my husband is incapable of even doing the laundry.” “Well, I never, ever see my husband, my teenage daughter hates me, and I feel so overweight because my personal trainer’s off on maternity leave…It’s a nightmare!”

Then all eyes turned to me, and I realised the conch of complaint had been proffered my way, and I was expected to air my grievances. I knew what I should do, I knew what they wanted, I knew what was socially accepted, but I just couldn’t do it. “Actually business is awesome,” I replied, “The magazine is growing, the readers seem to love it and, as for Jack, he’s a dream come true. I pinch myself every day that we have found each other.”

What do you think?: Do you believe in soulmates?

How did it go down? Well, lets just say the group of women all quickly and coincidentally, suddenly needed the bathroom and made a swift exit. Yet, I wasn’t boasting, I’m not arrogant and I certainly did not want to be envied. The truth is, I am just unapologetically, deliriously happy. Pretty much every day. Really!

happy young woman outdoor rising hands and looking at landscape on sunset

 

I’m sorry if that admission makes you feel uncomfortable. I know it’s far more acceptable to bitch about your life and focus on everything wrong in it, but I have to be honest and say I have a hell of a lot to be thankful for and, though my life isn’t perfect, I prefer to focus on the light then the shade.

Read more: What are you thankful for?

Let me get one thing straight – I am not in any way judging people who have real problems and need someone to confide in. Of course, it goes without saying that when times are tough we all need girlfriends to lean on, and I will happily listen, console and offer a shoulder to anyone who needs help, support or guidance.

I’m talking about the #firstworldproblems that many people air as if they’re fatal – the few extra kilos we’ve put on, the coffee order that wasn’t quite right, and the online shopping order that is delayed. I am talking about the contagious nature of complaining and the herd mentality of a group of women – one person starts moaning and everyone within close range is dragged into the stampede.

Small people talk about other people.

 

Don’t get me wrong – my life isn’t and has never been perfect. As I write about in my new book Life & Love, I’ve f**ked up every area of my life at some point. I’ve doubted myself… and then discovered confidence. I’ve been estranged from my family… and then learned no one
is more valuable than your mother. I’ve had countless failed romances as I’ve struggled to juggle love and power… and then I allowed myself to be vulnerable and found love as a consequence.

I’ve been the complainer, the moaner, the one who drags down the conversations. I also have been guilty in the past of ‘dealing in negativity’, picking apart the world and only vocalising its flaws.

That’s why I make no apology for being happy now – I shout it from the rooftops – because I was so unhappy for so long and the old me wasn’t much fun to be around.

Read more: The 7 habits of chronically unhappy people.

I now have more motivation then most to be positive, because it’s my full-time profession. Almost two years ago, after more than a decade working in the book publishing industry, I launched The Collective magazine, with a mission to go against the bad-news cycle, spread inspiring, uplifting contents, share and celebrate other people’s success stories.

Since then, the amazing reaction we’ve had from readers across the world has proved to me that humans do have an appetite for good news. We just need to remember how good optimism tastes.

Staying positive is rewarding but also requires effort and dedication.

It’s worth pointing out that endless optimism rarely comes naturally and I am not immune to bad luck and tough times (I put out a dozen professional fires a day) but I practice a series of rituals and tools that help me to default to gratitude.

If I feel my emotions moving into a negative place – jealousy, envy, anger or insecurity – I imagine that my whole body is full of black, cloggy disgustingness like tar, filling me up from my toes to the top of my head. Then I visualise a tap releasing the thick, black liquid and watch it seep and ooze out of my body until I’m clean, light and bright again.

Someone told me years ago that if someone is really upsetting you, write their name down and place it in a box, put the lid firmly
 on and put it in the freezer. I know, I know, it sounds woo-woo (trust me, as I write this I wonder a little about my sanity), however, it has helped me over the years.

You might also like: 5 awkward stress-related work moments we can ALL relate to.

I imagine that I put the same effort and dedication into remaining positive, as other women put into dieting or applying perfect makeup, and I assure you the end results can be just as good for your self esteem.

When someone asks how you are, rather then defaulting to what’s wrong, why not take a second to instead voice what’s right (even if it’s as tiny as “I just ate a really crunchy apple” or “I thought I was going to miss my train – then I didn’t”). It might sound crazy but think of all the tiny, ridiculous, insignificant things we openly bitch about every day in person, on social media and through emails.

Jumping on the beach

 

Why is it that if we see someone dancing in the street we think they’re odd? If a stranger grins at us, our first reaction is often suspicion. What do they want? Why are they smiling at me? Yet, if a stranger stomps past us scowling and swearing under their breath, it’s seen as perfectly normal.

I’ll never forget back in my single days going to a “love commune” (that’s a whole other story) where I met a guy called “Sparkle” who described himself as a “radical faerie” (it’s a thing – Google it). My barriers came up, my judgment on high alert. But by the end of the week I was embarrassed at my initial feelings. He was wonderful, uplifting, excitement, euphoric and he was totally unapologetic about it.

It might not be trendy but I’m going to continue to express my joy, happiness and gratitude, and I hope you think about doing the same.

Smile at a stranger, wave at a neighbour, and when you do have a good day don’t be afraid to celebrate it. Some people might think you’re cheesy, arrogant or crazy, but who really has the last laugh?

Life & Love by Lisa Messenger is out on Feb 12. Visit www.collectivehub.com or follow Lisa on Facebook.

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