Feeling “Sympathetic Joy” … Plus a Face Reading Tip!
Imagine you’re jammed into a coach seat on a crowded airplane, waiting for take-off, and suddenly the flight attendant comes up to the person next to you and says they’re being moved to first class.
How would you feel? Would you rejoice in their good luck or feel jealous and resentful?
If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us would feel some level of upset at the unfairness of the situation, or envious at that passenger’s good fortune.
But Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg had a different experience when she was that lucky passenger.
I heard Salzburg tell this story at a conference about Buddhist psychology, which blends Western therapeutic techniques with Buddhist mindfulness practices.
Her flight was delayed due to mechanical problems, and all the passengers had to hustle to a new gate at the other end of the airport.
But then they had more delays as the new plane had different seating plan.
She had originally been upgraded to first class but this plane had a smaller first class section so she was bumped back down to coach.
But at the last minute, the flight attendant came to tell her she did find a seat for her – And the entire coach section burst into cheers and applause for her!
To Sharon, this was an example of one of the principal tenets of Buddhism: “sympathetic joy” – rejoicing when something good happens to another person.
It can be hard for most of us to feel joy for someone else’s good fortune.
Of course it’s easy to feel happy if something wonderful happens to someone we love! But when it comes to anyone else, feelings like jealousy, self-pity or resentment can flare up.
Buddhism teaches that learning to feel joy for others can really help transform our own suffering.
By experiencing happiness for another, we can begin to lose the “us and them” frame of mind that causes us to be stuck in a limiting view of the world, and be more conscious of our shared humanity.
But even beyond that, as we make more opportunities to feel happiness in our lives, this truly begins to change our own energy.
Because when we cultivate joy, we naturally attract more of the same, as a process of resonance.
Neurons that fire together, wire together
Even Western science now recognizes how quickly our brains change as we choose new thoughts, feelings and behavior.
Every time we repeat a certain emotion, the more likely it is we’ll feel that way again in the future. As neuroscientists say, “neurons that fire together, wire together.”
So the more often you cultivate a feeling of joy, no matter how little, the more likely it is that your synapses will spark joy again in the future.
Always Start Small
How can you begin to delight in the good fortune of others?
Practice in small ways at first – choose situations that are less likely to bring up strong feelings in your system.
In the beginning, you probably won’t be able to rejoice that your co-worker got the promotion you wanted!
But perhaps you can be happy for the man who caught his train in the nick of time, or the woman who won the raffle.
And you may be surprised not so far in the future, to suddenly notice how often you’re thrilled when good things happen to other people…and how often good things happen to you too.
The Only Thing Wrong with You is That You Think Something is Wrong with You
What I love about Buddhist psychology is that it views each of us, no matter how we’re suffering, not as being ill or needing to be fixed.
Instead, they believe each of us is already fine just as we are in our heart of hearts, but our awareness of this truth has been obscured.
It’s similar to what I often say in my workshops, “The only thing wrong with you is that you think something is wrong with you.”
And as we can bring the energy of joy more and more into our everyday lives, we can reclaim our spirit and recover our original healthy way of being.
A Face Reading Tip!
And of course, being a face reader, I couldn’t resist making an observation about the crowd at this Buddhist psychology conference!
Here I was, surrounded by people interested in applying mindfulness techniques to help others achieve peace and balance, but with a focus on showing them how to take more responsibility for their choices in life.
As I looked around, I realized that nearly every face in the room had flat cheeks!
I had to laugh. One of the things that flat cheeks represent is someone who doesn’t want to have to take responsibility for another person’s work.
It’s usually a sign they’d not enjoy managing a staff, because they don’t like to constantly have to check up on people and remind them to do their jobs.
But another way flat cheeks can be interpreted is someone who’d not want to be in charge of another person’s growth – that they’d want them to take responsibility for their own progress.
This is exactly the way these flat-cheeked therapists would want to work with clients, and why they’d be interested in this conference!