Thursday, December 22, 2005

Mudita: A Beautiful New Word

I just discovered a new word and it's one of the most wonderful words I've ever heard: mudita. Here's what it means according to Joshua Zader:

     Mudita is a Pali word that means "sympathetic joy" or "happiness at another's success in life."
     In Buddhist teachings, mudita is one of the four Brahma-viharas, or "highest emotions," alongside love, compassion, and equanimity. I first learned of the word during a terrific retreat with Buddhist meditation teacher Leigh Brasington. I hold no reverence for exotic terms, and I rarely favor a foreign word when an English one will do.
     But in this case, there is no English word. We have many words with an opposite meaning—envy, jealousy, compassion, pity—but none for feelings of happiness or even approval at another's success. The nearest word might be "pride," but this is usually restricted to one's self.

Personally, I'd rather have a more English-sounding word, and I'm not so sure about the "highest emotions" business, but the concept is still remarkable. In fact, the idea behind the word has always been a part of my own sense of life. As a kid, I remember noticing that so many people around me hated other people for their successes. They spoke as if someone else's accomplishments automatically reflected badly on them because they hadn't accomplished the same. In other words, your having a nice house just makes my modest house look bad. To me, people like that were just miserable grumps, and I didn't have time for them.

I think I held to a different view because I knew that I wanted to be happy. As a child, I always found myself feeling awed and thrilled at the sight of other people doing great and wonderful things. Perhaps this came from my believing that one day I would be able to do the same — that it's my right and my chosen destiny to participate in these wonderful things — even if it takes me many, many years to get there. Then I discovered Ayn Rand, and she said, "You're damn right about that!" (My words, not hers, but her words certainly did have that effect.)

Zader also discusses Schadenfreude on his blog, which is the opposite of mudita. Very interesting stuff...gotta incorporate this somewhere in my story plans.