How a Little Girl Taught Me About Happiness

Have you ever witnessed genuine admiration for someone else? The kind of admiration that has not even a trace of envy? If you have then I think you are lucky, for that is a rare person. I think I met one of such rare persons. A little kid.

So there was this little seven year old girl whom I will call Alex. We had her over to play with my daughter one day. Alex plays piano and is taking lessons. Alex and my daughter are beginners. My daughter is several months ahead if judging from the textbooks they use.

At my house, guests who can play an instrument or has any musical interest is pressured, ahem, encouraged to perform. So Alex, as our guest, performed first. She played solidly for a seven year old. Then my daughter performed next. Being about half a level higher, my daughter’s piece sounded a little more impressive. After my daughter played her piece, Alex clapped her hands enthusiastically, then looked at me and said, “I have never in my life met a seven year old kid who plays piano so well!” Alex had such a sincere look on her face as she gave my daughter the best compliment my daughter ever received from her peers. She did not seek the spotlight for herself. She did not seem to be disappointed that her friend was playing better. She was just happy! She made my daughter look good while ignoring her own need for spotlight. It was so graceful and generous.

What I have usually witnessed among children is different. When kids just finish performing similar tasks, they want to be declared as the best: “I am better!” or “I am the best!” Kids are honest and have no filter. We adults, on the other hand, have learned to clap and cheer for others even when we are a bit envious. It’s usually more out of habit. We utter compliments. All the time. But somehow what Alex did was different. There was no trace of envy. It brought her joy instead of jealousy. If seeing someone else doing better gives us joy instead of jealousy, perhaps many of us would feel better than we do now.

I read somewhere that Facebook and social media in general make a lot of us feel bad about ourselves. The more time you spend on Facebook, the worse you’d feel, they say. When we see a former classmate announces on Facebook that he got promoted and now has our dream job, or our annoying cousin just went skiing in French Alps, we probably feel at least a tinge of jealousy. (Why wasn’t it me? I deserve skiing in French Alps. I spent all my money and vacation time visiting grandma last year before she passed away and this cousin didn’t do a thing for her! Now I know what he’s done with his money and vacation time.) What if we change our attitude and feel simply happy for those people? Is it social media or is it us who make ourselves feel bad? Will genuine admiration for others make us feel just more joyous?

Instead of feeling bad for herself because her friend plays piano better, Alex feels happy. It didn’t ruin her moment like it could have if it were a different kid. As Alex and my daughter held hands and ran off to the family room to play with toys, I caught myself thinking, “Alex, you are my new role model.”