When friends share bad news with us, we tend to sympathize and even weep with them. But, what about when friends share their good news with us? It seems like it takes a little more time and maturity to be happy about their happiness. I hate this about myself. How can we be happy about another person’s happiness?
There is a healthy way to respond to someone else’s good news and there is an unhealthy way to respond. Shelly Gable, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, identifies four possible responses to someone else’s good news.
Gable’s Four Responses to Good News
To help highlight and clarify Gable’s responses, I included examples from Scripture.
Active-constructive: The responder is enthusiastic, shows interest and is supportive. After Mary found out she was preggers, she went to Elizabeth’s house to share the good news. Here is Elizabeth’s active-constructive response:
Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Luke 1:42-44
Passive-constructive: The responder seems positive, but his response is muted and does not ask probing questions. When Zechariah and Elizabeth name their newborn son, their neighbors give a passive-constructive response:
Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what happened spread throughout the Judean hills. Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way. Luke 1:65-66
Active-destructive: The responder energetically belittles or actively attempts to destroy your good news. She focuses on negative implications of the positive news. When Mary gives birth to Jesus – the One born King – Herod gives an active destructive response:
After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.” Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Matthew 2:13-16
Passive-destructive: The responder barely acknowledges your good news and is unhappy about your good news but may never express it. She might also pretend like she is happy or she might change the subject. When the wise men enter Jerusalem, looking for Jesus, the newborn king, Herod exhibits a passive-destructive response:
King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” Matthew 2:2-4, 7-8
Out of the four responses, obviously, the active-constructive response is the healthiest. It has a positive impact on our relationships. Active-constructive responses build trust and values the person who share the good news. The latter two – active and passive destructive – tend to be born out of jealousy, envy, suspicion, and insecurity. These will always lead to unhealthy relationships. How can we get better at active-constructive responses and create healthier relational connections?
How To Get Better at Active-Constructive Responses
- Feel/know your own heart.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9
- Love the giver of good news.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15
- Demonstrate your interests in the person giving good news.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:1-4
- Celebrate others rather than destroy others.
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:11-12
Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us weep with those who weep, but more importantly to rejoice with those who rejoice. When we respond positively to other people’s good news, we show our maturity. The same God that blessed our friends with good news, is the same God who can bless us with good news. Active constructive responses, ultimately, create healthier relationships. In the end, everyone wins.
How do you tend to respond to other people’s good news?
When is it difficult for you to be happy about someone’s happiness?