If only we had a partner like that, a career that was taking off, the fancy house or the warm, tropical vacation. Envy is often pointing to something that you are desiring or feel is lacking in yourself or your life experience. Envy and jealousy can be powerful triggers — sometimes for the better and oftentimes for the worse.
Have you ever found yourself looking longingly at someone else’s reality and wanting to place yourself in the picture? ~ Here I am with my hot girlfriend/boyfriend sunning on the beach in some tropical destination. Ahhh, look at me now…it’s all sunshine, beaches, puppy dogs and rainbows. That is until the mind veers off on a tangent of envious inner fantasies with stories on how the colleague or stranger really isn’t all that, besides tropical vacations aren’t all they’re made out to be anyway. “Screw that!” You say, “I’d much rather vacation in Italy!”
Well, crap! You find you’ve stepped in the virtual dog scat of your own judgmental thoughts and imaginings and now rudely find yourself teleported back to reality — — back to scrolling your Facebook feed looking for signs of those seemingly worse off than you.
So what’s a mind to do? It’s in your face every day — dreamy houses, luxury vacations, rock-hard abs, career highlights, six-figure coaches working from their laptop “offices”, billion-dollar startups, Goddess “sisterhood” retreats, twin flame — soul mate romances…on and on…
Meanwhile, behind the scenes the plane was delayed, the mortgage is late, the steroids and botox are wearing off, the hot girlfriend is actually a serial cheater and the so-called goddess sisterhood is rife with drama, gossip, and envy.
So what’s up with the envy and resentment anyway?
British philosopher Bertrand Russell had this to say, “Of all the characteristics of ordinary human nature envy is the most unfortunate; not only does the envious person wish to inflict misfortune and do so whenever they can with impunity, but they themselves too are rendered unhappy by envy. Instead of deriving pleasure from what she has, she derives pain from what others have.”
Psychologists say there are two kinds of envy — benign envy and malicious envy. Benign envy is associated with being desirous of the attributes or successes of others and can serve to be a motivating force in the person experiencing envy, whereas the malicious form of envy is often associated with wanting the person of focus to suffer, fail or endure misfortune. The Germans have a special word for the malicious form of envy, “schadenfreude” described as the feeling of glee or pleasure at another person’s misfortune, suffering or failure.
Episodes of envy are natural to the unexamined mental human condition but can wreak havoc on people’s inner and outer lives if not faced squarely and worked with consciously.
This is where the philosophy of yoga might comes to the rescue.
There is a game changing word in Sanskrit, the language of yoga that is the polar opposite to “schadenfreude”. That word is mudita which translates to — the sympathetic joy in other people’s well being.
If this word or concept is new to you (and even if it’s not) I invite to stop and really ponder that for a moment. In fact, it’s such a powerful concept I’m going to state it again with emphasis — THE SYMPATHETIC JOY IN OTHER PEOPLE’S WELL BEING! Imagine that…
What a powerful idea and yet there is no true English counterpart to the word or even the concept. The closest we can come to anything in the English language that compares to the word mudita is the word compersion or the British term frubble but both of these terms are most often used by people interested in polyamory to describe finding joy in their partner’s finding love, affection and even sexual relations with others. Hmmm…? Well, all of that is a whole other subject so let’s not get too far off topic. For clarity — that’s not what is being referred to in this usage of the term mudita.
I’ll save the subject of “polyamory” for another day or maybe another writer entirely, it definitely requires its own special inquiry.
Back to mudita and pure sympathetic joy for another person’s well being…
Mudita is the practice of extending compassion in both directions. Many people naturally feel compassion or empathy when witnessing the struggles of others, but it seems there are far fewer people that can truly feel sympathetic joy and compassion at the small successes and great good fortune of others. Notice the word practice.
At the very heart of yoga philosophy is the great aim of total liberation from mental suffering. Most might agree that’s a pretty lofty goal! Luckily, yoga and many of the other great wisdom traditions don’t promulgate simple wishful thinking but rather offer tangible practices to help people to become more discerning in their habits of thinking.
Modern science is beginning to agree with much of what the ancient sages discovered through their internal studies. Recent scientific research indicates that by practicing various states of thinking and even feeling people can not only improve their own internal reality but can actually change the very structure of their brain. That’s heady stuff!!
The concept of mudita is also found in the Buddhist practice of the Four Immeasurables or Brahma-viharas meaning the four sublime attitudes. In modern lingo, sublime attitudes can be thought of as keys to ‘emotional intelligence’. In his book of the same name, Daniel Goleman shows that true success is strongly correlated with emotional skills even more so than a person having a high IQ or other markers.
Cultivating uplifting states of feeling and thought can lead not only to significant structural changes in the brain but is also believed to affect a persons hormonal and immune function.
For all the empaths out there here’s one of the greatest boons to your sometimes annoying ability to intensely empathize with others — you can now leverage your superpower abilities to feel deeply to freely fire up those mirror neurons and electromagnetic heart fields and radiate them in the directions of your thriving cohorts. Your own hormones might even thank you.
More impetus to practice sympathetic enjoyment!
For those of you out there reading this crying spiritual bypassing or onesided thinking don’t worry this is not a statement of denial in the benefit of the so-called “darker emotions”. Nor is it meant to entice one into abdicating their natural response to the very real societal issues of bullying, greed, corruption, xenophobia, racism, and all kinds of other social ills.
Acknowledging one’s feelings of injustice, anger, grief and in fact, the full spectrum of human emotions when and where appropriate is part of being an emotionally healthy, fully functioning human being living in a complex world.
The practice of mental reflection is primary in helping a person to become more self-aware and discerning. The cultivation of particular feeling states may help alleviate low-grade envy and melancholy which can lead to general and even acute states of apathy, depression and dis-ease.
The truth is most of us wouldn’t trade our own problems for those of even the most “successful” others. You just never know what’s truly going on behind the scenes, as to where people might be struggling or suffering.
You may genuinely resist feeling sympathetic celebration of the precieved good fortune of everyone you come into contact with and sometimes it is best to simply stop following.
That being said, there is something deliciously satisfying and incredibly life-affirming in partaking of the blessed circumstances of others.
So consider the practice of mudita the next time you’re looking for a natural oxytocin boost or a way to uplift your interpersonal relationships. You can begin by extending some empathetic appreciation at the good fortune of your friends, family, colleagues…and then perhaps dare we say, one day your enemies. It seems most would agree our world can use all the emotionally intelligent people celebrating the best in each other that we can find in these times.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if something as simple as the practice of mudita could extend globally to help elevate the worldwide tribe known as humanity towards greater and greater levels of personal and collective harmony?
So the next time you see your “friend” riding high on life — signing their first book deal or looking hot on the beach, shinning and relishing in their good luck and ephemeral beauty you might choose to dig down deep and appreciate with sympathetic enjoyment — their good time.
In the end, we’re all heading to the ultimately level playing field, or “six feet under” the field anyway…So while we’re living and sharing space on this beautiful blue planet let’s practice the act of radical generosity — that of being genuinely happy, for each other.
If you’re interested in checking out the science behind brain plasticity relating to social capacities check out this recent study: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/10/e1700489.full