Aleteia

How to talk about your joys and successes — without looking like you’re bragging

WOMAN AND MAN TALKING
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You should share the good in your life with your friends … here’s how.

Why is it so hard to talk about what’s going well in our lives? I mean, it’s wonderful when we find somebody who loves us enough to listen to our troubles with sympathy, but have you ever noticed how certain conversations turn into something that almost resembles a suffering competition?

“You sprained your ankle? Aw, too bad. That reminds me of the time I shattered mine, and had to use crutches for a month!”

“Your baby is fussy, with her first tooth coming in? Well let me tell you, mine is working on all four molars at once!”

It’s exhausting. It’s perfectly legitimate to talk about the bad, but this one-upmanship tendency is a big reason we don’t naturally share our successes and joys with each other. But we might ask: Isn’t the good in our lives even more powerful than the bad?

Maybe it is, but we’re actually reluctant to talk about what brings us joy for a pretty good reason: we don’t want to hurt our friend. We don’t want to rub their face in our triumph, unless we’re sure they’re as happy as we are. We don’t want to make them jealous, or look like we’re bragging. We’re also wary about coming across inauthentically positive, and maybe a little bit scared that the person is going to meet our excitement with a shrug, and a “who cares” attitude.

Much safer, then, to stick to the bad stuff. And our conversations — and our relationships — suffer for it. People only see one side of us. They never hear us say,

“I had such a great run this morning. I beat my personal record, and I’ve been riding the endorphin high all day.”

“The baby just learned to laugh, and it makes me so happy that my heart hurts.”

“I stayed up late with my husband yesterday, and we talked so long it felt like we were still dating. I feel so close to him now.”

These joys, the big and the little, are a massive part of who we are. When we don’t allow ourselves to share them, our friendships can only grow so far before they hit a ceiling.

Sharing your joys is tricky, because you need to know the other person well enough that you won’t be hurting them. If your friend isn’t in a happy marriage, in charity, you probably should not go on and on about how thoughtful your spouse is. But there are still other  things you can talk about. It’s pretty safe to mention how much you love the patch of irises in your front yard. Even somebody having a rotten day can be happy for you if you found time for a little baking, and against all odds, the muffins came out awesome.

As for sharing the really big joys, the key is a spirit of gratitude. There’s a noticeable difference between saying “Our offer just got accepted for our dream house!” and “I can’t even believe we get to move in here. I’m so excited.”

Gratitude shows that you’re not taking credit for your good fortune. It shows that you don’t feel like you deserve to be happy, but they don’t. It shows that you don’t feel entitled to your joy; you’re seeing it as a gift. It protects the other person from having to feel competitive, and most of all, since gratitude is something we can all have in common, it allows your friend to really share your joy, not just be stuck on the outside looking in. Gratitude makes all the difference.

Taking about our what has brought us joy requires a real amount of sensitivity and vulnerability, but it’s too important to neglect. The best part is that joy snowballs. If you can show that it’s okay to break the cycle of competitive complaining, the other person will feel safer to follow suit. And that can be such a gift.