“The more deeply one drinks of this spring,
the more securely one becomes in one’s own abundant happiness,
the more bountiful it becomes to relish the joy of other people.”
Have you ever entered a room where you didn’t know anyone but where everyone was excited, happy and enthusiastic and suddenly found yourself feeling the same way? Or perhaps you happened to witness a heated debate or argument and suddenly felt angry, frustrated and anxious? Maybe you are watching a movie, a show or a theatrical presentation and suddenly feel connected to the story in a visceral way, with fear, anger, disgust, sadness and joy. If so, you can thank your mirror neurons for those fun experiences. Researchers in cognitive neuroscience have been trying to figure out why we have mirror neurons and their specific benefits to us. It appears that at least for one thing, the mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy. I don’t know about you, but I’m immensely grateful to have these, and especially grateful that you have them too!
Mudita. In Spanish that word means “mute”, but in Pāli and Sanskrit it has a completely different meaning. In fact, you will find an equivalent word in many languages around the world sometimes even represented by a single character. That is, all but English. We don’t have an equivalent word. For us, it would translate to something like, “sympathetic joy”. It is the overwhelming feeling of pleasure that comes only from a vicarious delight in the well-being of others. In other words, it is feeling immense happiness for the happiness of others.
Some adversaries of mudita are jealousy, envy and derision. Mudita can heal these poisons and untap a reservoir of happiness. Many of our world religions teach the virtues of drinking in this joy. They encourage celebrating the delight and achievement of others, even when we are facing tragedy ourselves. “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” The real challenge is to cultivate mudita even in a world often full of misery.
We are wired for mudita, with our mirror neurons helping us, but do we really experience it as we should? Or do we find that we live in more of a manic state, seeking and reaping things for ourselves while missing the real treasure of joy that comes from celebrating with others? I’m definitely guilty of that. We should be in the business of the happiness of others that we may be happy too.
Mudita is flowering all around us. Let’s not miss it. Grasp the moments as they come. Absorb the incredible joy that can be ours when we step out of ourselves and rejoice at the blessings of others. I suggest we all take time this week, stop and smell the fragrance of those mudita blooms.