Ever feel guilty for winning?
Ever feel guilty for being smarter than a friend?
Ever feel guilty for getting a promotion?
Ever feel guilty for getting into the college that was your first choice?
Ever feel guilty for being alive when others have died?
Ever feel guilty for having good health?
Ever feel guilty for being successful?
Ever feel guilty for having privilege?
Ever feel guilty for having more money?
Ever feel guilty for being able-bodied?
Join the club!
Having something that others want or need can bring up a mixed bag of feelings. Opposite feelings can and do co-exist inside us all.
For example, you may be overjoyed by the job promotion you wanted so badly. At the same time, you may feel so bad because your friend and co-worker did not get that promotion.
How do we manage such conflicts?
We certainly don’t want to deny our joy and pleasure or have it negatively affect our relationships or make us feel that we have to retreat into isolation. And we definitely don’t want to cheat ourselves out of feeling happy and excited. This is challenging because of the many messages we hear growing up like: Wipe that smile off your face or Don’t get too big for your britches or Don’t tell anyone about your good fortune or they will be jealous or angry at you.
Some people may struggle with your good news, but that is just how it is. We all have to struggle with some people having more than we do and some people having less. Even though there is struggle, we can work to maximize connection and enjoy our good fortune when it comes our way.
Guilt to Gratitude: Kissing Cousins
Guilt and gratitude are “kissing cousins.” They are closely related emotions that coexist within us. Our guilt serves as a reminder of our responsibility to not hurt others. It motivates us to actively seek out ways to address inequalities and be a force for good. Our gratitude allows us to appreciate what we have and pay our good fortune back in some small way.
Instead of wallowing in guilt, which helps no one, try shifting from guilt to gratitude. Just substitute the words in your head in this simple way:
From: I feel so guilty that I got ______________________.
To: I am grateful I got _________________________ and I am so sorry my friend did not.
Substitute in your situation. Here are some examples:
From: I feel so guilty that I got promoted instead of my colleague
To: I am grateful that I got the job promotion I wanted, AND, I am so sorry my friend did not.
From: I feel so guilty my parents could pay for my education.
To: I am so grateful my parents could afford to pay for my education and I feel sorry for others who must shoulder the burden. Maybe I can help in some small way.
When we allow irreconcilable feelings to exist simultaneously without trying to reconcile them, there is space for more good feelings and mutual care to exist.
There is space for us to feel happy and grateful as we hold compassion and concern for another person’s loss.
Holding Jealousy and Being Happy for Someone Else’s Good Fortune
When we are the ones who didn't get what we wanted, we can apply some of the same principles. For example, a very good friend of mine is an aspiring writer. When I landed the book deal for It's Not Always Depression, she said to me, "I am sooooo jealous, and I am so happy for you."
This was the perfect response because it made space for both my friend's experience of jealousy and my experience of happiness and excitement. That, in turn, allowed me to feel happy for myself and understanding of my friend. I’d be jealous, too! It’s now a shared emotional moment where each of us understands the other.
Next time you feel guilty for having something good, shift from guilt to gratitude and see how that feels. And, the next time a friend gets lucky instead of you, allow yourself lots of room for both your feelings of jealousy and your joy for someone else.
A+ for trying!