MUDITA or “Sympathetic Joy,” means to be favorably inclined towards others, to have appreciation for the joy and beauty in life, and to take pleasure in other people’s happiness and success. Moving beyond feelings of jealousy or envy, Mudita cultivates enough contentment to share with others.
Like Metta (loving kindness), Karuna ((compassion), and Upekkha (Equanimity), Mudita is a Brahma Vihara, one of the divine mental states of an awakened mind.
Sympathetic joy is traditionally regarded as the most difficult to cultivate of these “four sublime attitudes.” It implies celebrating the happiness and achievement of others even when we are facing tragedy ourselves.
This kind of vicarious joy comes from delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it. A traditional example of this mind-state is the attitude of mature, loving parents who observe a growing child’s accomplishments and successes, without feeling narcissistic pride or receiving any direct benefit for themselves.
Mudita meditation is used to cultivate appreciative joy for the good fortune of others. It is used to counteract the resentment, jealousy, or envy that we often feel when we learn about someone else’s success.
When the heart and mind are free, Mudita and the other Brahma Viharas arise naturally, and comparing thoughts disappear.
It’s difficult to feel happy for others if we are not content within ourselves.
It helps to imagine an inner spring of infinite joy that is available to everyone at all times, regardless of circumstances. The more deeply we drink from this spring, the more secure we becomes in our own abundant happiness, and the easier it becomes to relish the joy of other people as well.
To bolster this sense of abundance, we can note consciously whatever might contribute to our contentment:
We might tune in to nature’s beauty, singing, dancing, spontaneous antics of animals or babies, creative breakthroughs, moments of curiosity, the satisfaction of work well done, deep concentration, or freedom from worry and self-absorption.
Exhilaration or exuberance is the “near enemy” of sympathetic joy because, despite a superficial resemblance, it entails an overly excited, even manic state, grasping at pleasant experiences out of a sense of insufficiency or lack. If we are too exuberant, our energy can overwhelm other people instead of giving them a sense of supportive accompaniment during their moments of enjoyment.
The Dalia Lama speaks of Mudita as a kind of “enlightened self-interest.” In spite of showing great compassion for the suffering of other beings, he laughs frequently and shares the joy of those around him. At the age of 76, he has the relaxed facial muscles of a 20-year-old. He clearly benefits from his capacity to appreciate the happiness of others.
In the 1930s, a Jewish man named Thera left his native Germany to become a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka. His teachings emphasized the practice of rejoicing on behalf of others. This Mudita practice has been a way of focusing on joy amidst suffering during 25 years of civil war in Sri Lanka.
As we connect with how fortunate we are to live in a relatively peaceful part of the world, let’s use some of the traditional phrases for cultivating Mudita or Sympathetic Joy.
Visualize a person you know who is happy and successful.
Silently repeat the following phrases and direct them towards that person:
May your happiness continue.
May your success increase.