Daniel Rechtschaffen, a friend of mine from grad school, was interviewed on the local news this weekend and the circulating video clip of it came across my Facebook feed today. While watching my friend in his brief interview, I sensed a great joy growing inside of me and I was very excited for him! How wonderful that his work and passion is getting such recognition! — I thought.
From a Buddhist perspective, I was experiencing Empathetic Joy. This particular feeling (also called appreciative joy) is that which you experience as you witness and become infected by another beings happiness and delight. I’m sure you’ve experienced this before, especially in the presence of children on Christmas morning or chasing bubbles across the yard. They are so excited and full of life that you can’t help but smile as you feel their joy. Or perhaps watching animals at play. (Maybe this is why we’re addicted to cat videos on Youtube.)
But one thing I’ve noticed as I age is that, the challenges of life make it more difficult for me to experience empathetic joy with other adults. When things aren’t going my way or I’m struggling with money, and I see others who are better off, sometimes I feel a tinge of jealousy begin to rise up within me. If I’m not careful I may begin to to judge them to feel better about myself; or I may judge myself to punish my laziness or to motivate me to do better. But none of that feels good, nor is it really helpful to anyone.
What is helpful is to loosen the grip of my mind about my expectations for myself, and rest in the joy that another persons experience brings to me. Being in this place will help me stay more connected to others. It will also support me to move towards my goals in a positive and productive way, instead of punishing myself for not yet having the thing I want.
So many of us walk through the world judging our experiences, the people we encounter, and ourselves — this is exhausting, and it doesn’t feel good! I challenge you make it a game to see how much joy you can find in others and allow it to infect you. Take off those goggles of gloom and doom, and try on some rose colored glasses… just for an hour.