Earlier this year, I wrote about the Sanskrit word mudita on SheLovesMagazine. I’d love to share this special word and its meaning here on the blog – now also available as an organic cotton t-shirt on the MotherTongues website.
I love words. Maybe you do to. I seek words, not the normal, everyday words, but words in languages that 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, life-giving ways. In fact, I’ve built a business around these words, a company called MotherTongues. 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 that I can 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 can change one’s life!
We have many English antonyms for mudita — envy, jealousy, pity — but no words describing feelings of happiness or even approval at another’s success. I read somewhere that we are taught to pursue our dreams and to resent those who achieve theirs.
The spirit against which mudita speaks, is found in the German word schadenfreude: taking pleasure in other’s misfortune. Often magazines, TV shows, and gossip invite us to find happiness and a sense of well-being in observing someone else’s trouble. 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 know that happiness that flows from you will return in abundance.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen master, writes about mudita in 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. Echoing Thich Nhat Hanh, author Sharon Salzberg writes in her book, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness that
“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 that 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.