In Buddhism, there are four brahma viharas. A common translation of the term is “best home” – a place to hang out that brings happiness and peace. The virtues are lovingkindness, compassion, equanimity and sympathetic joy. The last one has long fascinated me.
The word “sympathetic” throws me. I don’t want to feel bad for you. I want to feel with you. So “empathetic joy” rings far more truly for me. It’s about me feeling great happiness when you are happy or successful. It points to the idea that there isn’t a limited amount of joy to go around. There’s plenty for us all. It’s taken me a very long time to figure this out.
I remember watching some really popular guys in high school. They had Hollywood faces … chiselled and acne-free. They usually were great in sports and seemed so confident in a group, always with something cool to say. I remember wishing that something would go wrong in their lives. How about a pimple or two? “Tone down the good vibes, please.” I had bought what society was selling us: that happiness is a scarce commodity. If they have lots, there’s no way I can have much.
According to Sharon Salzberg … “As the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, puts it, there are so many people in this world, it simply makes sense to make their happiness a source of our own. Then our chances of experiencing joy ‘are enhanced six billion to one,’ he says. ‘Those are very good odds.'” Indeed. To multiply happiness by way of a simple shift in attitude.
How about if I surround myself with people who are smarter than me?
How about if I celebrate the skills of someone who writes better than me?
How about if I simply throw my appreciation over there into your eyes?