How to Spark Joy (and Curb Envy) with Muditā
February 13, 2019
Here’s a pretty common scenario: Your friend tells you about a new opportunity—a job, a love interest, a finally secured apartment—that has them feeling extremely joyous. They share their experience with you, expecting you to rejoice at their glee, and while you want to feel the joy they’re feeling, something else starts to happen.
You start to examine your own self-worth, and wonder why you aren’t getting the new job, partner, apartment, etc. and then you start to feel guilt and shame and spiral into a dark place.
How did we get here? You just wanted to be there for your friend, and your friend came to you expecting to share this joy, to have you feel what they’re feeling, and yet … you’re completely consumed with how their news has made you feel.
This experience is all too common, and one that I have experienced many times.
For me, someone else’s joy doesn’t spark jealousy necessarily, but more self-pity; for others, it may manifest immediately as envy or jealousy. It becomes worse when I become self-aware of the fact that I am feeling down on myself when I should be forgetting my ego altogether.
To feel this way is to experience the Latin word and feeling that is Invidia. It means to feel spite or resentment when seeing the success of someone else.
To feel the opposite is to experience the Pāli/Sanskrit word and Buddhist practice Muditā: a sense of spontaneous and sympathetic joy that comes from delighting in another’s good news.
A parent might experience muditā while watching their child thrive in a particular hobby or area of success that has nothing to do with their best interests. I experienced muditā last night when I saw my best friend perform with their band at Mercury Lounge—the joy I experienced had nothing to do with me and everything to do with seeing them flourish in a way that brings them joy.
You don’t have to practice Buddhism to experience and embody muditā—we are all capable of training our minds to experience joy for others we love and care about.
Training yourself to feel joy for others takes practice, like anything else when it comes to the mind. We asked Ralph Craig, a Ph.D. student in religious (Buddhist) studies for some tips and a guided meditation. Here, his advice.
How to Embrace the Muditā Mindset
1. Savor the Process
Remember that joy can be the result of an active process. It seems like it should be natural, but often times joy needs to be cultivated and practiced. Repeatedly practicing allows for the possibility of it becoming an ingrained habit.
2. Lead With Compassion
When doing a practice like this it is often difficult to feel joy for oneself in a deep and sustained way. Thus, offering the phrases to oneself can be the most difficult part of the practice. A sense of compassion and curiosity is key. Rather than feeling down or berating yourself for the inability to feel joy for yourself, become curious about it and keep practicing.
This advice goes for others as well: Rather than putting yourself down for feeling guilt/shame for other's joys, become curious about it and allow the practice to seep in.
3. Trust Your Resilience
Lastly, in my own Buddhist practice, we are fond of saying, "Never give up!" I have found it crucial to continue to challenge myself to develop a "never give up" spirit in practices such as Muditā and in life itself.
Your Muditā meditation
●︎ Get in a comfortable seated position, with your spine held comfortably. The eyes can be closed or half-opened. It can be helpful to do a quick breathing exercise, like counting your breath.
●︎ Start to generate the feeling of joy. The instruction to “generate” joy is key. The basic premise behind this and similar instructions is that all feelings are generated. It doesn’t matter if you don’t actually feel joy. You can encourage/make the feeling arise. Bringing a light smile to the face can help in this regard. Also, thinking joyous thoughts can be helpful. It’s an active process, and it must be counterbalanced with the premise that sometimes it is better to simply observe feelings/mind-states rather than trying to control or change them.
●︎ Next, think of someone you love. As you think of (or even visualize) this person, mentally repeat some variant of these four phrases:
- May you be happy.
- May this happiness be maintained.
- May you appreciate your happiness.
- I am happy at your being happy.
●︎ Then, follow the traditional sequence of offering the same phrases to someone for whom you feel neutral towards, someone you find difficult, and then towards yourself.
●︎ Linger on each or repeat if necessary. Make a relaxed, yet concerted effort to offer these four different types of people (including yourself) the joy which you generated at the start of the meditation.
●︎ To close, return to the feeling of joy which was generated at the start. Sit with that feeling as long as possible. Then, continue on with your day.