How often to you compare yourself to others, find yourself lacking and then beat yourself up about it or become envious? How often do you see happy couples holding hands or kissing and think about what you don’t have?
It’s normal to feel despair, envy, sadness, jealousy, defeat and depression when we compare ourselves with others and their lives. There is no joy in comparisons.
Right after I became chronically ill, the feelings generated by comparing myself to others intensified because suddenly I was unable to do even simple things, like ride a bike, go out dancing or be in a loving relationship. Everywhere I looked I saw people doing what I wanted to be able to do and felt anger, jealousy and unfairness.
I suffered great emotional pain for several years because all around me people had and were doing what I wanted to have and do, but could not. I was distraught, upset and felt defeated. And then I discovered the Buddhist concept of mudita.
Finding joy in the joy of others.
Sympathetic or vicarious joy.
The pleasure that comes from delighting in other people's well-being and good fortune.
Pure, unselfish joy or deep gladness untouched by self-interest.
Mudita is the opposite of schadenfreude, where you derive please from another person’s misfortune (we’ve all been there at some point, right?).
Imagine if you could look others and feel joy for their beauty, relationships, travels, careers, families, and successes? At first I balked. Be joyful for what all these people have that I don’t have but want? Was that even possible? And why would I even want to do that? Well, I’m here to tell you that, yes, it is possible, and that by practicing mudita, I have dramatically reduced my emotional suffering. The draining comparisons with others are no longer dragging me down. Now I can look at others who are happy and feel their happiness, which in turn lifts me up.
How do you cultivate mudita? With practice, practice, and more practice. Rather than allowing your mind to jump to comparisons or judgments, it’s about choosing to notice what is bringing someone joy, putting yourself in their shoes, and then feeling the joy you would feel were you in their position. You may find you need to challenge your ego and inner critic at times in order to allow yourself to find this joyful place, after all, this is a new practice. And practice is the key.
Try dropping the comparisons and choosing mudita even if for just one day. You may find that more space opens up in your life for other things because you will be more joyful on a regular basis, and won’t be dragged down by unnecessary heavy emotions.
Where will be the first place you find joy in the joy of someone else?
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