Automatic empathy: How I can feel bad for feeling so good

I try to be happy.

For one thing, I have a lot of reasons to be grateful. That helps keep me happy. I try to remember too that when I’m not feeling all that great, I can reflect on the things I can be grateful for. That can help sometimes.

For another thing, though, I know that I feel most happy, most alive, when I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. So I try to do more of that. And that helps keep me happy too.

Between the two of those, I feel like I can stay pretty happy, certainly more than average. But – surprise, surprise – there’s actually a downside to this.

It’s hard to imagine a downside to feeling happy, but maybe it’s similar to the downside of having lots of money. Suddenly, you’re not allowed to talk about it. You can’t talk about how amazing it is to feel so incredible when everyone else feels so lousy, just like you can’t talk about how amazing your job is when everyone else is losing theirs.

And the higher you go, the worse it gets. The richer you feel compared to everyone else, whether that’s measured in money or happiness, the less comfortable it can feel to share that happiness out loud.

You ever hear the story of the kid who wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps just because he didn’t want to get the other job that would pay him more than his father ever made? Well, I don’t think it’s just about sons and fathers.

Maybe there’s a part in each of us, or at least some of us, that worries about feeling better than anyone. Maybe it’s like automatic empathy, empathy working so well we can’t shut it off.

When I feel happy, I love the feeling. But still part of me hates that everyone doesn’t feel the same way.

When I was strolling the beach of southern South Korea, despite all the incredible joy I felt – the sand beneath my feet, the warm breeze, the cool water – all I could think about were the people I wish could have strolled with me.

Now that I’m back in Kentucky, sometimes all I can think about are the people I wish could share my happiness. But then I look around and realize they can’t. Or worse, I try to talk about it, only to realize no one wants to hear it.

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