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How to Practice Mudita/Sympathetic Joy and Deal with Envy

By February 8, 2022May 30th, 2023No Comments

Mudita is the Buddhist idea that translates to sympathetic joy.  Mudita is part of the “Four Immeasurables” in Buddhism with the other three being Metta (or loving-kindness); Karuna (compassion); and Upekkha (equanimity). There are many circumstances where it’s easy to be happy for someone, but competitive environments or comparison might make it harder to be happy for someone else’s success.  Ever notice a constricting or icky feeling when you see someone do well at something? Guess what- you are human and this is normal! 

When comparison kicks into high gear as it does when we are scrolling social media, we might feel jealous or bad about ourselves instead of happiness for someone else. Back in the day, the only people we really compared ourselves to were those in our neighborhood or at school because we didn’t have social media.  Now? You can compare yourself to the best of the best in seconds and have it hit you one after the other in rapid succession.Schadenfreude is pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune and sits on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Most of us fall somewhere in the middle.  I admit that I’ve experienced Schadenfreude and felt shame because of it. I’ve also felt shame when I feel unhappy that someone was successful.  When I accepted that it’s normal and there is also a different way to approach the tricky situation of comparison, it really helped me.

Depending on how you’re feeling in your own life, there are times where it’s easier to experience Mudita. Personally, an area I’m working practicing more Mudita is with my racing peer group.  Everything appears easier for certain people than it does for me.  Sponsorships have been harder to come by for me due to pregnancies and being stuck in Canada and unable to race in the summer of 2021. I notice feelings of jealousy when I see someone has a new bike sponsor (it might be as surprise, but I have not had a bike sponsor since the end of 2019).  I feel jealous when I see people traveling and training with no restrictions.  The first thing is acknowledging the feeling, but then I try to wish them well and also use optimism in my own life- things will get better!    

You might experience difficult with emotions when someone has a new baby, gets a job or promotion you wish you wanted, or even just the idea of someone’s highlight reel or picture perfect life.

How do you cultivate this feeling of Mudita, but also accept that you may feel jealous or Schadenfreude? I think that you can simultaneously be happy for someone else, even if feel bad for yourself at the same time.  With practice, maybe the the feelings of joy for someone else will be much greater than any feelings of envy.   I’ve worked on even feeling happy for people that I don’t even particularly like or that were mean to me.  It’s freeing to let go. Challenges with feeling joy for others arises in the cases of envy, comparison, and a scarcity mindset.

Here are some helpful practices I learned:

  • Notice that you may be thinking in terms of absolutes and individualism. You see someone who has everything and it might feel like you have nothing. But all-or-none is rarely the case.  We also sometimes assume that if someone got something, then you would have gotten it instead but that also is not always the case.  I try to think of making the pie bigger instead of a shrinking pie.  It’s not “you win, therefore I lose.”
  • Where can you notice gratitude for what you have in your own life?  Can you visit that list or that practice when you are experiencing scarcity, envy, greed, etc.  It might give you perspective that it isn’t “you have everything, I have nothing.”  In my sponsorship example, I may not have a bike sponsor but I do have other sponsors who support me. When I focus on that fact, I feel better about myself but I also can feel happier for someone else.
  • Develop a self-compassion and loving-kindness practice.  Jeff Warren, Sharon Salzberg, and Kristin Neff are some of my favorites. A simple saying I like to use is “May you be well” where you can be someone else or you could be yourself in the third person.  When I notice feelings of envy, I try to first wish them well but also wish myself well.  Again, loving-kindness and self-compassion are practices that you work on your whole life.  There is no quick fix of band-aid but a state of being.
  • It’s easier to experience Mudita when it’s something unrelated to what you’re striving for.  Start noticing when you feel joy for others and try to use empathy to feel joy for someone doing something similar to what you are doing.  How can they inspire you instead of threaten you? What can you learn?
  • Notice situations that might cause an overwhelming amount of envy of constriction in your body.  Is that situation useful and how can you use it as a learning tool?

I hope you found learning about Mudita useful and also that if you are experience envy or Schadenfreude, you aren’t alone! 

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