Mudita, a Practice for Our Time
We all know about schadenfreude—the pleasure or satisfaction we (choose to) get from the failure or humiliation of others (and here's a neat short history of the idea). But did you know that there's a practice that's the opposite of it and is probably far healthier to engage in? It's called mudita, and it's usually translated from Pali and Sanskrit as "sympathetic joy" or "vicarious joy."
When I was introduced to mudita early in my mindfulness practice on my first weeklong retreat over a decade ago, I remember thinking how strange it was. We were instructed to go outside, walk around, and find opportunities to wish others well—in our heads, by the way, as this was a silent retreat. I recall immediately seeing two squirrels playing and was delighting in their play. I then saw a couple holding hands while walking. They were smiling and giggling as they spoke to each other softly (they weren't part of the retreat). I had to remind myself of what I was setting out to do, at first. Be on the lookout for anyone to be happy for, and then be happy for them. Delight with them. Be joyful for their joy. In your head.
Try it for a day, though. See how you feel. About yourself.
Who is Worthy of Mudita?
The next time you see or hear about a success of a competitor, drum up some joy for them. And the next time you see or hear about the success of someone you don't like (assuming they're not a legit terrible person), dig deep and drum up some joy for them, too.
What you're doing here, just as in mindfulness in general, is creating a brain that predicts you'll be happy when others are happy.
Face it, schadenfreude's moments of satisfaction are ill-fated, doomed to instantly turn sour if they weren't always sour. Do you really feel good when others experience misfortune? And if you do, mudita is still your ticket to a kinder you. Even if it takes everything you've got, as soon as you notice the impulse toward schadenfreude, do some lovingkindness ("May you be happy. May you be healthy and safe. May you be at ease and free from harm.") and tag on something you'd want someone to say to you in that situation. Maybe it's, "May you learn from this and not repeat it" or "May the rest of your day be filled with love, support, and acceptance." In other words, stop yourself in your tracks, and turn your sentiments around. There's no rule that says once you have the impulse to be happy about someone's failure, you must follow through.
Again, you're creating a way of being that's kind and loving. You're cultivating compassion and decreasing spite and ill will.
I don't believe there are positive and negative emotions, but you can ask yourself, "Is this emotion in the service of something destructive? Is it in the service of suffering?" And if it is, you have a choice to make. Do you want to amplify that emotion and that suffering, or not? Mudita gives you the opportunity to program your brain to predict you'll have supportive and compassionate responses to the failures of others, and easily celebrate their successes. Maybe all of this happens in your head, and maybe at some point you say it out loud or in writing (get thee onto LinkedIn and celebrate with others!). What matters is the default prediction you're creating by practicing mudita every chance you get.
We become what we practice.
May ease find you.
Wanna practice with me THIS THURSDAY at 10am, ET?
It's technically an Intro, but we'll practice for about 15 minutes at the start
and you're welcome to just to that part and then take off!