Discovering Joy: The Immeasurable Quality of Empathetic Joy
True joy comes from wishing others well. It seems counter-intuitive, doesn't it? But as the Dalai Lama says,
“The three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”
Practicing empathetic joy means you take delight in sharing it with others. You recognize that joy cannot be hoarded, divided up, or stolen. Joy gets bigger when you share it. This is what gives it the "immeasurable" quality. And who doesn't need a bit more joy these days?
Reframe Your Situation Positively
It can be tricky to stay positive in the face of so much world turmoil. You can make it a practice to experience, and share a joyful attitude. I know that may sound trite and Pollyanna-ish. But it doesn't have to be that way. Just notice when you start getting cranky, and see if you can intervene.
Empathetic joy is a wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings. This type of joy is different from worldly happiness in that you may not feel especially cheerful. It's more like a feeling of being content. It is the absence of struggle.
The Four Immeasurables
It means relishing the good you see in the world, both in yourself and others. You feel happy when good fortune is bestowed on others. Empathetic joy is the experience of being happy for others' good news.
You see that this life is fleeting and ephemeral, and that you could actually appreciate your life more because of this. Eventually you will have to let go of everything. Why not focus on the simple joys of living in the present moment?
One of the interesting features of living in Crestone, Colorado is the End of Life Project. Recently I attended the funeral of one our community members....an open air cremation. Ironically, this celebration of one man's death inspired joy.
What struck me during this event was that death is not the end of life, it is a part of life. Yes, our neighbor left his physical body. But his passing reminded all of us in attendance that we carry on the spark of life. More importantly, it reminded us of the preciousness of that spark. Someone remarked that death is not an event; it is a process. Be grateful for your life.
How do you develop empathetic joy?
It means relishing the good we see in the world, both in ourselves and others. It means we are happy when good fortune is bestowed - on us, but especially on others. We recognize that joy cannot be hoarded, divided up, or stolen. Joy gets bigger when we share it. Practicing empathetic joy means we take delight in sharing it with others. This is what gives it the "immeasurable" quality.
Choose To Be Kind + Generous
Joy can be elusive. To be honest, I am not always a happy camper. I'm often cynical, critical, cranky. I struggle sometimes with sadness, loneliness, confusion. I'm not always as resilient as I would like: so like everyone, I sometimes suffer lack of joy.
One thing that always helps lift me out of my funk is helping someone else out, or just offering a kind word. Something happens in the exchange when you reach out and offer yourself in service to another's wellbeing.
We make our own experience. How you show up determines the quality of that experience.
And, in the end, nothing will work out! Eventually we will have to let go of everything. Contemplating death as we watched the flames consume a human body, served as a powerful reminder that this life is fleeting and ephemeral, and that we could actually appreciate our lives more because of this.
Why not focus on the simple joys of living in the present moment?
We could go in the blink of an eye. So why waste this precious time ruminating on what is not working out? There is so much that IS working out. Stop right now and look around you: I'll bet you can find somethings that sparks joy if you look for it.
Empathetic joy counters jealousy and can make you less self-centered. Joy is really just about feeling ok with how things are. It may sounds simple, but it's very powerful.
Here are a few ways to discover empathetic joy:
Feel like you deserve it
Rejoice when others feel joy
Reframe things in a positive light
Choose kindness and generosity
You know the feeling of joy when a friend encounters good fortune? This is where we're headed with this third immeasurable. You learn to be happy because others are. But you don't just stop at your friends and loved ones. When you can extend this same quality to all sentient beings -- being happy even for your enemies -- then you turn joy into the third immeasurable of empathetic joy.
When you extend empathetic joy to all sentient beings, you experience true joy as a sublime state of mind. Then you can "always maintain only a joyful mind" as the lojong slogan goes.
What brings you joy? Make a practice of dwelling in that on a daily basis.