Mudita: When there’s enough Happiness to share

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Taking Delight in Another’s Success

By Michelle Hamman | Twitter: @MotherTongues

I love words. (Maybe you do too!)

I seek out words … not normal, everyday words, but words in languages I do not understand; words that can teach me concepts from other cultures. These words, I believe, can inform my life and all of our lives in positive, lifegiving ways. In fact, I’ve built a business called MotherTongues around these words. And I’ve written how these words have changed me, and my family’s life.

Sometimes I just know when I find a word that it will change me in more ways than I can even anticipate. One such recent word is mudita (moo-dee-TAH). It is a Sanskrit word describing a state of happiness in response to someone else’s success in life. Imagine taking delight in and being happy for someone else’s good fortune, despite your own circumstances at the moment. Surely such an attitude could change your life.

Opposites aplenty

We have many English antonyms for mudita — envy, jealousy, pity — but no words describing feelings of happiness or even approval of another’s success. in fact, I’ve read that we are taught to pursue our dreams and resent those who achieve theirs.

The opposite spirit of mudita is found in the German word schadenfreude: taking pleasure in others’ misfortune. Often magazines, TV shows, and gossip invite us to find happiness and a sense of well-being in observing someone else’s trouble. As I write this, the world is watching Charlie Sheen …  Schadenfreude is a powerful attitude; one that sells.

If we live life as though there is a fixed amount of happiness in the world, or that one’s happiness is threatened or diminished by the happiness of others, it is easy to grow a resentful, competitive spirit. Think of the possibilities if you understand how that happiness flowing from you will return in abundance.

Double Joy

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen master, writes about “mudita” in the book Teachings on Love:

“A deeper definition of the word mudita is a joy that is filled with peace 
and contentment. We rejoice when we see others happy, but we rejoice in our own well-being as well. How can we feel joy for another person when we do not feel joy for ourselves?”

Mudita never denies sadness or sorrow. Our awareness of grief and sorrow, however, helps us to find our own joy in things big and small, as well as in the joys of others. Sharon Salzberg echoes the idea in her book, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness: “Remembering the truth of the vast potential for suffering in this world, we can feel happy that someone, anyone, also experiences some happiness.”

I want to live with mudita in my heart and model this counter-cultural way of living for my daughters and those who cross my path. Of course I’ll fail at times, but I’m reminded that there is more than enough happiness to go around. This knowledge continually brings me back to the heart of mudita.

May the power of mudita grow in you as you discover that in this world, there is enough happiness–and love–for all.

Mudita – what a gift.

About Michelle:

Michelle Hamman is the owner of MotherTongues.com and loves traveling and exploring with her husband and two beautiful girls. During their sabbatical last year, they lived in three different countries, took way too many photos, didn’t do enough homeschooling, and don’t regret any of it. Between travels, she lives with her family in Holland, Michigan.

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