“Mudita is a word from Sanskrit and Pali that has no counterpart in English. It means sympathetic or unselfish joy, or joy in the good fortune of others.” (1)
I bring up Mudita now because those of us who are sick often find it very hard not being able to participate in celebrations this time of year. We feel we are stuck on the outside just looking in, and as we look in we are envious. We can’t feel joy. Mudita is the opposite of envy. When we feel mudita we feel joy in the joy of others. We are genuinely happy that others are having a good time, even though we can’t join them.
This feeling doesn’t happen over night. It’s hard to overcome those feelings of envy. We don’t want to feel this way, but we have to admit, that’s the way we often feel when things come up and we can’t join in the fun. We don’t feel joy in the fun the others are having, we feel sadness and anger that we can’t join them.
I first read about mudita when I read How To Be Sick by Toni Bernhard. At the time my husband was playing games with a group of friends and I used to be envious that he had this group and I didn’t have anything like it. He’d call me from there and I’d get this knot in my stomach and feel horrible because of this envy. Then one day I realized how much he needed this time, how much he loved this activity and how much my envy hurt him. (even though I thought I hid it well) I remembered what I learned from reading Toni’s book. I remembered mudita. It didn’t happen overnight, but in time I started feeling joy when hubby would call from his game and sound excited about how things were going. At first I faked it. I knew I should feel joy for him so when I talked to him I put on a smile and told myself how happy I was for him and how much joy this made me feel. Did I feel this at first. No. But after a while when he called I was truly happy. I felt joy hearing how the night was going. I was no longer faking it.
When trying to practice mudita start small. Start with someone you don’t know. When you see someone win a competition feel joy in their joy. Then when you give a gift, feel the joy the receiver feels (that’s an easy one, I think). Take it one step at a time and you will be surprised at how much joy you can feel when others feel joy.
It may not happen this holiday season, but perhaps when you can’t participate in the next celebration you might be able to find mudita, and feel joy in the joy of others.
I recommend all of Toni Bernhard’s books: How to be Sick, How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness, How to Wake Up. If you are chronically ill and haven’t read it yet, be sure to read How to be Sick. I’ve read it over and over and keep going back to it. It helps me live the day. It makes me feel like I can get through this and thrive.
For further reading on Mudita, of course you can check out Toni’s books, but also check out.