Mudita – the forgotten concept of sympathetic joy

Mudita – the forgotten concept of sympathetic joy

Mudita also known as sympathetic joy is one of four bhramaviharas or attitudes that are a part of the dharma as described by the Buddha. So what is exactly Mudita? Mudita means sympathetic joy. Simply put it means, seeing you happy makes me happy. Sounds easy, but it’s a very difficult quality to possess.

For starters, a compassionate kind human being is someone who feels sad when he or she sees anyone else in pain or hurt. That is the quality of Karuna or compassion. Again, it’s not easy. It takes a good heart to feel sad or empathize with someone when they are in pain. But Mudita, is a few steps further, as it’s even more difficult to feel happy for someone in their good times. Not just outward happiness but the inner joy that you experience when someone else is happy or is rewarded in any situation. It simply means, you getting it is equal to me getting it and the happiness that I would have with seeing good happening in your life or seeing you get what you dreamt of is as good as it happening in mine.

Let us see a few common examples. Remember that time in school when you got less marks or so you thought and then after a while when everyone in your class got their grades and you realize that you are the highest amongst them indeed? Thus, even though your marks were less, within minutes you became happy about the fact that at least compared to others you scored the highest. You didn’t get very good marks but you were happy because compared to you others had more.

On the other hand, let’s take a different scenario. You got 93 percent and you were totally excited. At this stage, the curiosity to know other people’s marks increases. Picture this…all your friends are coming back with long faces after collecting their answer sheets. Let’s say, all your friends got marks in early eighties, no one even touches ninety. You are now even more excited and consoling those friends of yours who are feeling sad about their grades.

“It’s ok, it’s no big deal, and you will do better next time. It’s just an exam. Few days from now this won’t matter at all”. You almost take the role of a counselor, may be even from a very genuine standpoint. By this time, most of your friends and almost the entire class has got their grades, except for one friend of yours. He collects his paper with a sad face and comes towards all of you. Everyone asks him his grade. He quietly nods and keeps silent.

“It’s just an exam, why are you taking it so seriously?” you tell him.

“I worked hard this time, so I expected more marks but I am disappointed! I should have done better. I feel dejected” he says quietly.

“Oh common it’s just a test, how far will this go in life. You’ll do better next time. How much did you get by the way?” you ask him.

“It’s ok I am not telling” he says, “I feel too embarrassed.”

After much persuasion from you and the rest of the friend circle he finally speaks up in a tearful tone, “guys I did horrible, I got a 95”!

Now suddenly, this conversation is followed by a deadly silence before the congratulations and convincing overachiever speech begins. But if there would be a drastic day and night change in something then that would be your mood, the way you suddenly start feeling. Now you are not happy anymore. The joy and bliss you experienced a few moments ago when you received that 93 percent is all gone. The contentment and satisfaction of doing well has just disappeared. You feel lost and dejected. In fact, you feel incapable of being happy.

Now mind you nothing , absolutely nothing has been taken away from you but someone else has got more than you, that too juts a little more than you and that is a big enough excuse for you to feel sad. Though these marks won’t make any difference in the long run in his life or yours, still there is a gloom of unhappiness within you. All the preaching, wisdom and philosophical advice that you imparted minutes ago to your friend about this being just and exam and how he can do better the next time and how this won’t matter in a few days, just goes out of the window. In fact, now you are in a situation where you can’t even show your feelings to others. You are completely devastated. You are not unhappy because you got less but you are miserable because someone else got more!

This is not an uncommon scenario. In fact it applies to every sphere of life. When you become excited about your new car but immediately feel bad when you see a sparkling new sports car or a bigger, costlier car parked in the front yard of your neighbor. When you are happy and posting about your recent family holiday and suddenly you see a friend post about a vacation abroad and even more the misery if that’s in a first class. When good things happening with others make you miserable that’s when you must realize that no matter how small or subtle it seems, you must work towards eliminating that. Not just eliminating that but reversing it.

If you can clap and cheer for someone else genuinely, then that’s a sign of being self-content. Not just content but rather self-respect. How unfortunate is the soul that feels insecure when seeing someone else happy, or seeing someone else progress. Also, if you feel bad when someone else progresses there is full certainty, without even an iota of doubt that you will feel good when they have a downfall. If you feel bad when someone else achieves more than you; then, there is hundred percent guarantee that you will feel good when they get less than you. Clapping for someone else is grace. The first person you make happy in the process is yourself.

As mentioned in the Bhagwad gita the true qualities of a person in the mode of goodness is when he or she understands that, though on the outside we appear as diverse and different, we all are a part of one undivided , imperishable entity. When you can think from this perspective that we are all the same, that’s when you have conquered the biggest enemy within. That is ahankar or self-pride! Pride prevents us from being our true selves. Developing sympathetic joy is the best way to drive away this seemingly subtle yet deadly enemy that lies within us. Pride is like a parasite that feeds on one’s energy and makes one weak from within.

Mudita is also the opposite of jealousy. Jealousy again is the biggest form of self-disrespect. It is the doubt that one expresses in the all-pervasive, all-knowing energy, whether one calls it god, universe, nature, anything that is bigger and more knowledgeable than us. When one develops sympathetic joy he or she lets go of envy and comparison. One believes that every individual has their own path to walk on and comparing their path with someone else’s in anyway is just an invitation to misery. Not everyone has the same interests, dreams or hobbies. Similarly, no two life paths are the same. Understanding that we all will go through phases of happy and sad times, helps build mental strength.

It’s interesting that people let their happiness be defined even in festive seasons by comparing to how others are celebrating. Due to the world coming closer because of social media, it’s not uncommon that people develop anxiety even during festivals as they feel they are in competition with others. So instead of the festivities bringing joy it ends up bringing more stress. So why do I talk about this so strongly? One would say it is human nature to feel bad isn’t it? Well, just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s natural. The true natural state is is feeling happy when good things happen to others.

The best example of sympathetic joy is when a child does well or achieves great things and the parents feel happy for the child. Such happiness is second to none and even though the parents have not achieved anything themselves seeing the child do well, fills them with the joy and bliss that is in fact more than what it would be had they achieved the same thing. Another example would be that of a teacher or guru. When the student reaches a milestone or when the student surpasses the teacher and the happiness that the teacher gets is again unmatched. Here, even though the teacher hasn’t achieved something for themselves seeing the student do better makes him or her happy. In the above two examples, the joy and happiness experienced by the parents or teachers is without any expectation. Such should be the joy we must experience when others do well.

Also, as mentioned you should not expect anything in return for feeling happy about someone. When you clap for someone else the first person you make happy is yourself. Sadly in today’s fast paced world people don’t think that peace and content are a definition of happiness. Feeing happy for someone else is considered as a sign of weakness or laziness. Unfortunately, only external physical objects are misinterpreted as happiness. There is a huge difference in being happy for someone else and doing your own work sincerely verses being happy for someone and not doing your required duties. As they say birds of a feather flock together, so do emotions. Genuine happiness will come with the inspiration for one to do well in their own life as well. Kindly don’t associate you being happy for someone as a ticket to getting some external reward for yourself. No expectation. Everyone gets the fruit of what they have sown. You being happy will fill you with joy and peace, and isn’t that good enough?

So, let us all strive to develop this beautiful quality of Mudita or sympathetic joy within us. The inner content, peace and happiness that it brings is nothing short of divine! Let us progress on the path of life and achieve this milestone. Let us remember, that every time we are happy for someone else, there is our own good energy smiling back at us knowing that we have removed one more hurdle of self-pride and come a step closer towards true happiness and peace.

So remember, the ability to feel sad and empathize in someone else’s pain is a sign of mental health while the ability to feel happy for someone else’s success is a sign of mental wealth. Let us all strive to be healthy and wealthy!

About the Author

Dr Neha Pansare
Doctor and Public Health Professional.

Dr Neha Pansare has completed her MBBS, medical school and internship training from Mumbai, India and her post-graduation MPH, Masters in Public He

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