Mudita, Altruistic Joy in Sanskrit

Mudita is a kind of pure, pristine joy not tainted by ego or envy. It means feeling joyful for the happiness of others
Mudita, Altruistic Joy in Sanskrit

Last update: 09 October, 2021

Mudita is a term that has its roots in Sanskrit and defines the joy you feel at the bliss and happiness of others. This beautiful word doesn’t exist in the Western world. However, keeping it in mind would help you to give presence to this emotion that’s so decisive in relationships yet so absent in many of our social settings.

Buddhism developed a type of meditation aimed at promoting this state of mind. Indeed, appreciating the well-being of those around you is a virtue and a fundamental principle of coexistence. Above all, it involves letting go of disturbing emotions like envy, greed, resentment, and that quiet discomfort you tend to feel when seeing others who are doing better than you are.

It’s fascinating how there are often certain words in some languages that invite reflection on realities that aren’t even defined in others. However, the fact that certain emotions or feelings aren’t included in a dictionary doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. In fact, mudita is a psychological state that we should all promote and develop.

Mudita is a fundamental virtue in Buddhism. It means rejoicing in the abundance and happiness of others as well as being able to promote the well-being of others.

Woman with a light in her mind and her eyes closed representing the mute emotion

Mudita, altruistic joy

Mudita, usually translated as altruistic joy, is included within Buddhism’s “sublime states” (Brahmavihārās). They define a series of practices that go beyond meditation. Furthermore, they seek to promote in the human being a lifestyle, a way of acting, and even a moral code.

This perspective has also caught the attention of the psychological field. One example was a study conducted by the University of Kansas (United States). In this work, researchers tried to understand the difference between empathic joy and altruistic joy.

The first is limited to feeling someone’s positive emotion and being infected by that state. Nothing else. However, altruistic joy is experienced when you do something for someone to improve their well-being. In turn, you enjoy their happiness.

What Buddhism defines as cultivating Mudite virtue, in psychology, implies exercising proactivity coupled with an emotional empathy that gratifies and takes pride in the happiness of others.

The four sublime states

Mudita, as we pointed out, is one of the four sublime states of Buddhism. They’re practices that are cultivated through meditation and recitations, but that invite you to make a deep emotional and behavioral change.

However, it’s not enough simply to understand what mudita is. In fact, you have to embody it, feel it, make it your own and exercise the other three sublime states as well. They are:

  • Loving-kindness or benevolence (metta) signifies practicing a type of affection free of attachments, but strong in meaning, openness, and tolerance. It’s accepting the other as they are thanks to your affection for them without any need to control them.
  • Compassion (karuna). This term doesn’t mean feeling sorry for someone. In fact, compassion in Buddhism is understanding that we all deserve to be free from suffering. It means being able to be present for others in a generous way.
  • Altruistic joy (mudita) defines the ability to rejoice in the abundance of others. It signifies being able to mediate the well-being of others by emptying yourself of envy and ego.
  • Equanimity (upeksa) is the virtue that unites the other three. It implies knowing how to lead a harmonious life free of attachments, in which you integrate all of the virtues mentioned above.
Stone heart with graffiti on a wall representing the mudita

Mudita and schadenfreude

In German, a word is used that defines the exact opposite of mudita: schadenfreude. This term refers to the satisfaction that some people experience when they see that life is going badly for others. It seems that this sentiment is quite common in the highly competitive society we all live in today.

It occurs in work environments among colleagues, in academia, and sometimes even among groups of friends and family. The root of schadenfreude is envy, as opposed to mudita, which is a feeling nurtured by altruistic joy.  Buddhism claims that, in a certain way, we’re all born noble, but sometimes the sociocultural context inoculates us with ego, envy, and resentment, etc.

Exercising the enriching emotion of mudita requires effort and will. Indeed, it isn’t easy to rejoice so much in others’ success. That’s because you tend to experience feelings of longing, of the desire to have their luck. However, letting yourself get carried away by these kinds of feelings only increases your discomfort. It’s never the right thing to do.

You’re perfectly capable of rejoicing in the happiness of others and even promoting it. Because altruism reverts back to yourself. Indeed, feeling the well-being of others is an act of nobility, kindness, and also love.

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