Q: Why is it so hard for me to be happy for my friends when nice things happen to them?

A: If you have trouble feeling thrilled about a pal's good fortune, we know one thing: You're human. We all want to feel that we're doing well and reaching our goals. When a friend succeeds, it can feel like a threat to your achievement—she is passing you in the race of life!—and that can bruise even a healthy ego. It's also normal to be secretly a bit relieved when a superachiever in your set gets knocked down a notch.

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Why do we fall into the trap of believing that where we land on the success scale depends on how we're doing in relation to others? For some, it harks back to the days of sibling rivalry. Life was like a pie, and the bigger slice your sister got, perhaps of attention from Mom, the smaller your piece seemed. If you grew up in an environment where this was actually the case—your parents picked her favorite of the day, or coaches always put your best friend in the game before you—this issue may loom especially large. Often just the act of recognizing where your resentment comes from defuses the negative feelings. 

 

Gail Saltz, MD, is a psychiatrist and television commentator in New York City who specializes in health, sex, and relationships.