Ripples #1181: Vicarious Joy


Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow.
-Helen Keller, shared by Holly in Phoenix, AZ


Most of life is a positive-sum game in which we can all be better off if we play nicely together. Sympathetic joy is a way in which we can share the joys of others and thereby give ourselves a lift…. Even though it may seem counterintuitive, when you’re suffering, if you can focus on another person’s joy, you can share it, and that makes you feel better.
-Rick Heller, shared by Vindi in New Mexico via


A few weeks ago we explored the Buddhist concept of Lovingkindness in Ripples #1176. In a bit of serendipitous meandering, I recently stumbled upon another Buddhiism’s brahama-viharas (“sublime attitudes”): mudita.

Mudita doesn’t have an exact translation in English. It is often referred to as sympathetic or unselfish joy, although after reading and pondering I’m finding it useful to describe it as vicarious joy. You may be familiar with the German word “schadenfreude” (another word without an exact equivalent in English), a term for finding enjoyment when bad stuff happens to another person. Mudita is something of an opposite of that, experiencing joy when good stuff happens to another person.

Have you ever been out and about and happen upon some random child enjoying the heck out of an ice cream cone…and instead of getting jealous because you don’t have one, you just marvel at the delight you are observing? That is mudita.

I don’t think mudita would work well if it was our sole source of joy…it would seem rather hellish to be forever stuck on the sidelines of contentment and forced to witness other people’s happiness. However, as an addition to your own joyful experiences, and perhaps as a temporary substitute when you’re having a rough day…well, I think cultivating mudita seems worthwhile..and fun even.

Wanna try it out this week and see? I’m in, and I hope you are, too.

P.S. This issue of Ripples is dedicated to longtime Rippler Joy Wiggert (1966-2021) who recently swam out to the Great Quote Pond Beyond. We first crossed paths at a conference in 2008-ish, and I was excited to see her smiling face again in 2017 at a peptalk I gave in Madison that ultimately led to the creation of Ripples of Hope. More recently, she was excited to be part of Paul’s UROCK Peeps. Joy believed in the holy power of Ripples, and I’m grateful I was connected to her for so many years.

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