This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth" by Chris Hadfield. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Why should you be happy for others’ success? What Buddhist concepts relate to this philosophy?
Finding happiness in life isn’t just about celebrating your own successes. According to Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, you’ll be happier if you celebrate other people and their milestones.
Discover why being happy for others’ success boosts your overall mood.
Find Fulfillment in Supporting Others’ Success
Hadfield says to be happy for others’ success if you want to find joy in life. He offers three reasons why:
Reason 1: You’ll build closer relationships. When you’re a team player rather than someone who fixates on advancing your own agenda, people will want to be around you and get to know you.
(Shortform note: Longitudinal psychology research on happiness supports Hadfield’s belief that closer relationships contribute to your happiness. Many of these same studies also suggest that people with strong relationships live longer, healthier lives.)
Reason 2: You’ll be more successful. Most efforts in life and work are team efforts, and you and your team will thrive if you’re collaborating rather than competing.
(Shortform note: While Hadfield suggests that a lack of competition is healthy for a team dynamic, some experts argue that healthy competition can support team efforts—specifically, it can improve creativity. Competition is healthy when the end goal is supporting the team effort, rather than creating a hierarchy of superiority within the team. Team leaders can foster healthy competition by holding brainstorming contests (such as offering an incentive for whoever comes up with the most effective solution to a problem) and by initiating lighthearted, competitive games.)
Reason 3: You can’t always be in the spotlight. You won’t always be the one assigned to lead important endeavors. It’s best to support others who are in the spotlight rather than attempt to steal the spotlight when it’s not your turn.
(Shortform note: When you’re no longer in the spotlight, feelings of envy can arise—and envy might make it hard to support teammates who are in the spotlight. Psychology research reveals that feelings of gratitude can help you relinquish feelings of envy. When you envy the position of someone who’s in the spotlight, consider engaging in a gratitude meditation in which you devote 10 minutes to reflecting on what you’re grateful for. For instance, you may realize that even though you’re not in the spotlight, no longer being in a prominent role frees you up to spend time doing other important things, such as being with your family.)
How Hadfield Learned This Lesson
Hadfield learned how to be happy for others’ success while serving as the commander of the ISS. Only four days before his team’s scheduled return to Earth, one of his crewmates noticed sparks shooting from the ISS port—evidence of an ammonia leak. Ammonia cooled the station’s power systems, and if too much of it leaked, they would have to switch off the station’s power. Mission Control—the team of experts on Earth that advises astronauts—announced that the astronauts would need to conduct an emergency spacewalk to fix the leak.
(Shortform note: Today, there’s a robot on the ISS that “smells” and investigates leaks, such as ammonia leaks. This robot reduces the chances that astronauts have to conduct risky spacewalks to diagnose and fix leaks.)
Mission Control also shared that Hadfield wouldn’t be the one conducting the emergency spacewalk to fix the leak—his two colleagues would. At first, Hadfield was disappointed that he wouldn’t be one of the “heroes” who would save the station. (Shortform note: Hadfield’s desire to be a heroic astronaut may reflect that popular culture tends to portray astronauts as heroes. However, not all astronauts believe this: For instance, in Chasing Space, Leland Melvin cites a keynote speech from former astronaut Michael Collins in which Collins says that astronauts aren’t heroes—like people in any profession, they’re just doing their jobs.)
Not long after receiving the disappointing news that he wouldn’t be going on the spacewalk, Hadfield realized that he had an important duty as the commander: keeping his two colleagues focused, safe, and motivated so they could patch the dangerous leak. To perform this duty, he joined in their excitement about the spacewalk, prepared their spacesuits and equipment, and memorized the steps of the spacewalk so he could direct his colleagues if they lost connection to Mission Control. When the time came for the astronauts to spacewalk, Hadfield trusted his colleagues to do their best. When they successfully patched the leak, Hadfield was thrilled: He and his team had done something unprecedented, and he was happy his colleagues had the chance to be heroes.
Buddhist Concepts That Relate to Hadfield’s Lesson
Hadfield’s realizations and actions in this anecdote closely relate to two concepts from Buddhist philosophy: interdependence and sympathetic joy.
Interdependence: This is the idea that all living things, situations, and environments are interconnected. According to experts on Buddhism, embracing ideas of interdependence can help you derive joy from others’ success.
Hadfield’s anecdote illustrates how acknowledging interdependence can lead to success and joy. He recognized interdependence when he realized that his colleagues depended on him to keep them focused, safe, motivated, and prepared. He also depended on them to prevent a system shutdown. This mindset allowed him to shift away from feelings of envy so he could support his colleagues, leading him to experience their success as if it was his own.
Sympathetic joy: According to this Buddhist concept, we can derive pleasure from witnessing and supporting others’ joy. Hadfield experienced this type of pleasure when he delighted in his colleagues’ success with patching the leak. Research reveals that people who experience sympathetic joy have stronger relationships and higher life satisfaction. They’re also less likely to burn out at work.
It can be hard to experience sympathetic joy—others’ success can make us feel envious, as Hadfield shows by admitting that he was disappointed that Mission Control didn’t select him for the spacewalk. However, experts say there are ways to replace envy with sympathetic joy. We’ve organized several research-based strategies into three steps you can take when you envy someone.
1. Engage in self-compassionate writing. When you experience envy, it’s often because you think you’re lacking in some way. Write down what your insecurity is, then draft a compassionate and accepting response—the type of response a friend might give if they were comforting you.
2. Transform your envy into motivation for self-improvement. When you envy someone, it’s usually because they possess a quality you admire. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, get to know them better. That way, you can learn from them and improve.
3. Ask them to share about their success. This can help you see how much their success means to them, which helps you feel happy for them. Ask them for details on why they’re happy or excited and why their success will have long-term benefits for them.
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Here's what you'll find in our full An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth summary:
- Chris Hadfield's experience of becoming an astronaut
- The five life lessons Hadfield learned in his role as an astronaut
- Why you should find joy in everyday life rather than looking forward to milestones