Being happy for another's fortune is the ultimate form of empathy

(Contributed by Richard C Hsu)


My brother and I happen to work in the same industry and we recently got nearly identical new jobs. My boss turned out to be really difficult and as I struggled on a daily basis dreading to go to work every day, my brother was doing very well at his, getting lots of praises and even getting a mid-year bonus for excellent performance. And while I knew (intellectually) I was supposed to feel happy for him, I found myself becoming very envious which, in turn, actually made me feel worse about my own situation. I began to think, “why is the fact that his job is going so well affecting my attitude on my job (and life) when it has no impact whatsoever?” That is when I realized that the source of my envy was actually from a lack of empathy and that it is much more difficult to empathize with someone’s fortunes than misfortunes.

The reality is that empathy is far easier to feel when someone is having less fortune than you. When someone else loses a loved one, becomes ill or experiences some other tragedy, you empathize easily because you feel grateful to God for all your blessings – in other words, by putting yourself in their shoes, you realize your own fortune. However, it is much harder to put yourself in their shoes when they become a millionaire, buy a big house or land a high paying job. There is an old saying which says “nothing is as infuriating as seeing your neighbor get rich” but if you can truly be happy for someone else’s fortune, you have achieved the ultimate form of empathy.

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