But your happiness does not need to diminish or feel threatened by the happiness of others. In fact, you can benefit from the delights of others by allowing them to bring more joy into your life.
The yogic teachings of Patanjali introduce the idea of mudita. The word means to be pleased or delighted. The premise for the practice of mudita is that you can find joy in the good fortune of others.
Negative Feelings Affect YOU not Others
Anger, envy, resentment and jealousy are very powerful feelings. They all lead to emotional pain, including sadness, loneliness and low self-worth. What’s important to understand, though, is that these negative feelings do no influence the emotional stability of others. Instead, if you are the person who feels these negative emotions, then it’s you who will suffer.
The reality behind negative feelings is that they affect your overall mental well-being. Specifically, negativity and complaining rewires your brain. The more you do it, the easier it is for the brain to generate those emotions. As a result, it becomes more difficult to find joy and happiness in life.
Poor mental well-being isn’t the only result of negative emotions. Our physical body also suffers. Terry Grossman, MD, explains:
When you experience negative emotions such as stress, hostility or pessimism, you will often feel it on a physical level in the form of chest pain, an upset stomach, palpitations or headaches.
Negative emotions are a natural part of normal living but, if prolonged, they can lead to an increased risk of many disease processes and can even shorten your life. It is well known that negative emotions can affect your immune system, which can make you more susceptible to infection.
The Placebo Effect of Feeling More Joy
Now, consider the opposite scenario. When you practice mudita, you create a beneficial impact on yourself and others. Once you start appreciating when something positive happens to other people, then you will find yourself feeling glad, delighted and happy more often.
These positive emotions do more than just make you feel good. They can actually help you live longer. Researchers proved this concept in what became known as the Nun Study.
Scientists from the University of Kentucky studied 678 nuns to analyze the effect that positive emotions have on longevity. Psych Central shares some of the most notable findings from this research:
What researchers found in their data was astonishing. Simply put, the nuns who expressed more positive emotions lived, on average, a decade longer than their less cheerful peers. By the average age of 80, 60 percent of the least happy nuns had died. This isn’t a misprint: A full 60 percent of the least happy nuns had died. The probability of survival was consistently in favor of the more positive nuns. There seems to be a direct relationship between being positive and longevity.
Another fascinating finding from the study showed that positive emotions can help your brain stay healthy. As part of the study, the nuns agreed to donate their brains to the research. Over 500 nuns have died since the study began. This allowed scientists to show yet another correlation. Psych Central writes:
Researchers have begun to study the nuns’ donated brains. What has been found? About half of the brains are free of Alzheimer’s. And yes, there is a strong, seemingly causal, correlation: The nuns with positive perspectives on life were free of the disease, and those with negative outlooks had symptoms of dementia.
Joy Connects Us to Others
If a longer lifespan isn’t enough, there’s another benefit from practicing mudita. It creates a very tangible impact on our personal relationships.
Consider all of your friends, family members, co-workers and random acquaintances. When you relish in all of these people’s successes and delights, it gives you countless opportunities to experience more joy.
First, you react by smiling to yourself, on the inside. Then, you start smiling more often at the people around you. Over time, you become more inclined to say, “Congrats!” “Way to go!” “I’m so happy for you!” You give more high fives and fist bumps.
These positive interludes with others improve your relationships. How could they not? Everyone loves to be around people who smile and encourage them. Consequently, more people want to be around you and a part of your life.
Why is this important? Because research shows that relationships also affect longevity. The Harvard Gazette reported on a study that shows positive relationships protect you from discontent. This, in turn, plays a role in delaying physical and mental decline. The Gazette writes:
Several studies found that people’s level of satisfaction with their relationships at age 50 was a better predictor of physical health than their cholesterol levels were.
The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.
Our Self-diminishing Nature
Finally, here’s one more reason why joy and the practice of mudita are vital to wellness. It is often difficult to find joy in our day-to-day lives. We’re often on autopilot and do not appreciate little delights, such as a short line at a grocery store checkout or a truly delicious tomato.
This happens because we are distracted by the chatter of the inner judge. This inner voice easily self-criticizes and perpetuates our weaknesses or shortcomings. This judge distracts us from finding joy in the simple things. Instead, it likes to feed us comparisons that lead to envy and jealousy.
Therefore, the practice in relishing in the happiness and joy of others is of vital importance. It helps counteract the destructive effects of negativity that we may hold for ourselves. Over time, it helps us overcome self-criticism and hush misleading-thoughts. We become less likely to think that our life is somehow lacking. In the end, we are more likely to rejoice in our own wellbeing.
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh writes in Teaching on Love:
A deeper definition of mudita is a joy that is filled with peace and contentment. We rejoice when we see others happy, but we rejoice in our own wellbeing as well.
Joy Leads to Transformation
The power of joyful energy can be profoundly felt. Just like laughter and smiling, joy bathes every cell of your body with calm, loving energy. This could be one of the best ways to reduce the stressful effects of the modern Western lifestyle.
When you learn to feel gladness for the delights of others, you will see profound changes in your life. Here’s a recap:
- It will be easier to let go of self-criticism and spiteful thoughts.
- You have more appreciation for your uniqueness, as well as the traits and strengths of others.
- You realize that you, like others, deserve to be happy.
- It’s easier to let go of stress and negative memories.
- You will feel and BE less isolated because your relationships will thrive.
- Your attachment to outcome will diminish when you compete against others.
- It becomes easier to find joy during each moment.
And, as a result, you are likely to live longer!