You can feel happy for your favorite colleague getting a promotion; your neighbor, who had been alone for thirty years, finding the love of their life; or a person, who had lost everything in a storm, getting support from a charity to rebuild their house.
To experience feeling happy-for, something good needs to happen to someone you like, feel close to, connected to, or identify with. The intensity of the feeling is influenced by how close you feel to the other person, how much you feel they deserve the good thing happening to them; how good you yourself are doing in relation to that person (if you are worse off, you are more likely to feel envy); and whether or not you are in a competitive situation with that person (if you are somehow competing for the same things, it is more difficult to feel happy for them1).
Just like compassion/pity (I feel bad when you feel bad), happy-for is a sympathetic emotion that occurs when you ‘resonate’ with another person (I feel good when you feel good), although it is easier to feel compassionate than happy for strangers. Schadenfreude (I feel good when you feel bad) and envy/resentment (I feel bad when you feel good), on the other hand, are contra-harmonious to happy-for. Depending on their personality traits, some people are more likely to react to others’ good fortune with envy, and others with happy-for. Some authors have even gone as far as stating that being happy for someone else is impossible, or reserved for a very small group of people1.
Happy-for has received little attention from scholars and researchers, although “symhedonia may well be the model positive emotion, for it combines the moral weight of sympathy with the hedonic glow of joy and the interpersonal benevolence of gratitude2 .” One of the reasons for this may be the difficulty of evoking feeling happy for strangers in lab settings2.
Researchers still seem to find it difficult to explain the function of feeling happy-for, as Royzman & Rozin2 noted: “Given that experiencing symhedonia does not appear to confer any obvious adaptive advantage either on its experiencer or on its target, its very existence represents an interesting challenge for evolutionary theory.” However, feeling happy-for is clearly a prosocial emotion that can strengthen the bond between people: sharing good news leads to savoring the experience yourself, and to building personal relationships with others. Ample theories exist regarding the function of prosocial behavior in general, and feeling happy-for may play a certain role in this social system.