Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Book Wisdom: Mudita

This post is the first in an ongoing series of nuggets of knowledge and wisdom I mine in books. These little nuggets will focus on kindness, peace, joy, mercy, love, compassion, mindfulness, and personal growth. No doubt this wisdom from books will be quite eclectic (as is my reading list!), but each post will, I hope, give you food for thought...and perhaps ideas for your own reading list.  

About five years ago, I read The Universe in a Single Atom by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and was fascinated by the depth and breadth of the openness this man promotes both through his actions and his words.


We need more of that.

So when I saw The Book of Joy at my local Barnes & Noble, with its face-to-face picture of the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I bought it and immediately dove in to page after page of wisdom and inspiration from two big hearts and open minds. The book documents a week-long meeting of these two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and faith leaders as they discuss the subject of joy in a harsh and difficult world.

As you can see, I had to start marking passages to go back to, to reflect on, to remember, but now, a year later, I'm simply re-reading the whole thing.

The nugget of inspiration I want to explore from The Book of Joy today is the word mudita. Buddhists define mudita as the joy that comes from someone else's joy. It's the opposite of schadenfreude, which is German for the pleasure that comes from someone else's suffering.

Reading the definition of mudita in The Book of Joy made me think of Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts(Don't you love it when books cross-pollinate in your mind?) Back in 2011, I came across Voskamp's book about gratitude and immediately began my own gratitude journal. I read blogs and other books on gratitude, wrote numerous posts about gratitude, and cultivated gratitude as a habit of mind.

This intentional study stuck and is one of the most transformative habits I've ever instilled in myself.

Mudita gave a name to a powerful side-effect of practicing gratitude. I would frequently find myself, in the midst of stress or worry or conflict, smiling. At first, I was a bit confused that my joy couldn't be suppressed by whatever was bothering me, but I quickly realized that practicing gratitude had rewired my thoughts.

Often, when negative thoughts about my own situation seemed to grow big, random thoughts of gratitude welled up and pushed the negative thoughts into a more realistic perspective...and these moments of gratitude in my own pain were almost always thoughts of someone else's blessing.

Mudita. Mudita for my friend whose leadership has turned around a faltering adult literacy program and has caused ripples of joy for so many people. Mudita for a first-time grandmother who is beaming with joy. Mudita for a friend with a new job. Mudita for my son and my niece who got into their first choices for college. Mudita for another niece who is getting married. Mudita for travel photos of other people's fabulous vacations on Facebook.

You can find mudita everywhere.

But you have to be open to it, cultivate it, let it well up inside of you, and overflow in celebration with another human being. 

The result: joy.

Questions for Thought
What do you think of the idea of mudita? Have you experienced mudita recently? If so, please share your experience in the comments. How might you cultivate mudita in yourself and encourage it in others?


  1. Lovely. I used to have a sweatshirt that simply said, "Choose Joy". Now I think I'd like one that says, "Choose Mudita". I have a feeling the comments it would draw would open a lot of opportunities to share the concept.

    1. Too right! What a conversation starter that would be. I'd wear one.

  2. Good and thought-provoking post, Susan.

    I felt mudita for the 7-year-old girls in the first Daisies (Girl Scouts) group in the school who were having such delight in the meeting—all smiles and giggles.

    Good idea for the sweatshirts!

    1. Smiles and giggles are contagious...especially when they originate with little ones!

  3. Great post! Mudita for my on-line creative friends!

  4. I experienced mudita Monday night as my sister relayed the events of the day before: Nerf wars with her grandchildren. Hearing these exploits filled my heart with joy.

  5. So glad to see you're writing again here, Susan! I'll be reading! I had never heard the word "mudita" before, but I love the concept. And your long-standing writing on gratitude resonates with me. Feeling grateful for what you have (and we all have a lot!) instead of looking at what you do not have is the key to happiness.

  6. I've never heard mudita either. What a wonderful idea.

  7. With this post you've inspired me to finally begin keeping a gratitude journal. In just a few days I find myself seeing everything about my day in a different light. Thank you so much for sharing like this!

  8. Susan, I recently read The Book of Joy, too, and the concept of mudita resonated with me. I love that word! And I love the idea of rewiring my mind so that gratitude overwhelms negative thoughts. Continuing with my gratitude journal! Mudita for my siblings'spring break travels, and mudita for my friend's new job! Thanks for writing this, Susan. 😊


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!