This Saturday, while reading an article by Oliver Burkeman in the ‘Guardian Weekend’, I encountered the principle of ‘mudita’. This concept is one of the four virtues of Buddhism and describes a form of happiness derived from someone else’s successes or victories, untainted by any self interest or envy.
Be it joy at a colleague’s promotion without a hint of jealously, or happiness for a friend’s latest sporting triumph devoid of the desire to surpass it, ‘mudita’ is the purest and most altruistic form of happiness, and one which, in my mind, certainly seems worth trying to cultivate.
To develop ‘mudita’ in its truest form, the process shouldn’t to be perceived as a chore or duty in order to qualify as a ‘good person’. Rather, it is a state of mind to be reached that makes the cultivator much happier than he or she would otherwise have been.
As the Dalai Lama puts it: the capacity to take pleasure in the triumphs of many others gives you much better odds of being happy than in merely finding happiness in the successes of oneself.
This model of altruistic happiness is grounded in the fact that happiness isn’t a zero-sum game. As Burkeman states, ‘there isn’t a fixed amount of happiness; you getting some doesn’t mean less for me.’
While a life of pure ‘mudita’ might be an unattainable ideal, an awareness of the concept might help to nudge us in the right direction.
So next time your neighbour’s warrior three is more balanced than yours, or your running teammate crosses the finish line ahead of you, or your climbing partner completes a route before you’ve even mastered the second move, just remember to be happy for them, (and when you beat them next time they might just be happy for you!).