Empathetic Joy: Welcome Abundance in Relationships

Have you ever received news from a friend about a joyous event and noticed yourself shutting down, or thinking “I wish I had that”? This is a very human response that we have all felt, if we can be honest about it.  Thankfully there is a wonderful philosophy and heart practice to support us in working with this reaction.

The concept of Mudita, which can be translated as empathetic joy, appreciative joy, or my favorite; joy in another’s joy, is a useful tool on our path of evolution and expansion. In Mahayana Buddhism, jealousy or envy is described as one of the five afflictions that keep us stuck in suffering. As embodied and conscious beings we have the opportunity to break out of suffering through practice.  

You can practice immediately: you don’t need to wait to start this, you may even receive an opportunity today! The next time someone communicates some joyful news, a success, or great happiness, pause and notice how you feel. Be very honest and notice all of the feelings arising. If you observe even a shred or trace of the feeling that you wish you had such joy, success etc in your life, please note that.
Then perhaps you can implement the following:

Take a breath. Feel the feeling. Let yourself feel it. Take another breath. Relax your body. Repeat this phrase (or something with a similar intention): We are all one. Your joy is my joy. In this moment I cultivate gratitude for your success. Your success is my success.  May you be blessed with abundant joy.

The heart practice of Mudita can be used in the moment if and when we are capable.  To increase our capacity to do this in the moment, we can “strengthen the muscle” of empathetic joy. To build and enhance the neural connections of Mudita, we commit to a regular meditation practice with this as a focus. Some of us have a strong natural tendency toward jealousy or comparison (I am raising my hand), whereas some of us naturally tend to celebrate others’ wins. If you are like me, then this can be an important foundational practice for you!

I recommend you commit to sitting down and doing this meditation at least two times per week this month. If you like to track your progress, pull out a journal beforehand and make note of up to 5 examples of recent moments when you felt something like jealousy or comparison. After your month of commitment, pull out the same journal and write down at least 5 instances when you were able to practice mudita in the moment. You might also reflect on whether it has gotten any easier to celebrate others’ abundance and success.  If you would like to support yourself even more, alternate the Empathetic Joy Meditation with the Loving-Kindness Meditation (one each day) for a deeply transformative combination this month.

With any meditation or yoga practice we need to try it on for size and see whether it works for us. Practicing Mudita has made my life more abundant and has significantly improved the quality of my relationships. The more I practice, the more I feel the benefits. That said, I know I need to keep at it!  Recently a dear friend bought a house in the town near where I live. She has experienced major challenges in the last year and this new home is a great joy in her life. While visiting the house, I found myself riding different waves of emotion; while I was in fact very happy for her, I also noted traces of wishing I had such a cute, welcoming abode with the conveniences afforded by being in town. Immediately I brought in the Mudita practice, and hopefully was able to be more present for her big success that day. Life ALWAYS provides us with opportunities for growth; so of course when I went home that afternoon the water stopped running at my house and I had to figure out how to fix the well (something town-dwellers don’t need to do). I had a good chuckle about how immediately life offered this clear opportunity to dig in and practice Mudita and gratitude more fully!

A student in the Balanced Rock Yoga Teacher Training once encapsulated her Mudita practice perfectly. She shared how much she loves to play and win at Yahtzee. Every time another player would roll Yahtzee, she would pause, breathe, and actively cultivate joy for their win!

Sunset view from my home; a beautiful and challenging place full of opportunity for heart practices!
Sunset view from my home; a beautiful and challenging place full of opportunity for heart practices!

For many of us summer is a time of adventures, getting outside, and enjoying long days with friends and family. As we emerge from our winter hibernation we are faced with an abundance of opportunities to practice Mudita! The more you connect with people, the more you need this practice. If you commit to it, I guarantee it will add a quality of ease and abundance to your relationships.

Once you dig in to this practice, please share any reflections in the comments below. We can always learn more from each others’ successes!

More resources on Mudita: 

Four Essays on Mudita from Buddhist Scholars

The Wellspring of Joy

Mudita: The Buddhist Practice of Sympathetic Joy