Friday, August 01, 2008

Mudita vs. Joy of Being Resented?!

A Washington State Lottery billboard near a major Seattle freeway off-ramp urges people to “Experience the Joy of Being Resented.” Is it really so easy to manipulate people's fears and desires? Since the proceeds are really a government revenue, this is essentially a tax--with a slim margin of huge payout--on the greedy and now also on people desiring to make others jealous. What strikes me the most is that eat-your-heart-out sentiment campaign targets the insecurity of others rather than their desire to contribute to a compassionate cause or something appealing to a more humanitarian side of people.

This is similar, though more extreme, than a sales technique mastered by the hare krishnas and peddlers on any Caribbean beach, that manipulates people’s desire to be liked by everyone. The hare krishnas would give a small flower as gift, wide-eyed and kindly, then request a donation when the flower was in the hands of the recipient. Most of the people did not even want the flower, and if you're stay around long enough, you'd see the hare krishnas going to the nearby trash cans to dig out the flowers and recycle them on the next passersby. Even though people did not want the flowers, it still invokes feelings of guilt or reciprocity. The desire to reciprocate is a strong instinct in many, based on the fear of being disliked or the desire to be liked--which are really the same thing. The lottery advertisement is similar, with a 180-degree twist. It exploits the desire to be in a situation so desirable to others that they can afford to be disliked.

This "joy of being resented" reads as a play on some popular concepts about finding a true sense of happiness through the world, in a very zen-like fashion, examples are books entitled "The Joy of Sex" and "The Joy of Cooking" and "The Joy of Gardening." In these, I tend to read joy to mean a state of intense peace or happiness, a positive feeling with no opposite., something that cannot be taken away. This is how I use the word. I think of pleasure more to mean a transient good feeling, something that brings a visceral positive feeling. The Dalai Lama talks about the different types of pleasure, from positive to negative -- there's the satisfaction of a new purpose, the warmth of hearing loving words, to the rush from a cocaine snort, the thrills of sexual excess, or the power kick from clocking someone in the nose. Looking at it this way, it can be seen that pleasures are fleeting, can go away if the purpose no longer holds, if the cocaine wears off, or if the loved words are replaced with scorn. These pleasures are not rooted in a firm and peaceful place, they are a zero sum game that has an opposite. The Art of Happiness spends a lot of time on this subject. And in this book, the Dalai Lama's definition of happiness is similar to my definition of joy. Joy, on the other hand, is the peace from understanding one's place in the universe, the deep-seated inner glow from loving someone without the need to be loved in return, and the stability of knowing who you are. I believe that experiencing this joy through "being resented" is a very difficult if not impossible thing to achieve. It is more likely that it fits the definition of pleasure, which is something that's fleeting and not nearly as satisfying when the resentment wears off, or when one realizes that being resented isn't all that the billboard made it out to be.

An alternative to this "eat your heart out" sentiment is possible. To start with, here's a concept that really had me pondering. A good friend of mine in an open marriage introduced me to a term in the polyamorous community: compersion. It is defined as the opposite of jealousy, the happiness that you feel when you partner finds happiness in another. Maybe compersion is actually the opposite of the eat-your-heart-out sentiment, at least in the terms of having a possessive nature over a "trophy" spouse.

Similar to compersion is the Sanskrit term mudita. Mudita is the empathetic joy experienced by someone else’s joy. Hinduism, Buddhism, and a number of other philosophies consider it one of the most valuable and difficult forms of compassion to cultivate. Keith Ferazzi, author of Never Eat Alone introduced this term to many in one of his terrific Tips of the Week. It seems like an incredible powerful skill to develop, the ability to be in joy (to enjoy) when anyone else is in joy, rather than being jealous of someone else's fortune, or even on the other side, being pleased when someone else is jealous of your fortune, you can experience euphoria just through the joy of someone else. Next time you cry at a wedding, that's mudita in action. If you love that profound bliss, take a snapshot of that feeling within yourself and learn to bring it about. I felt it at my cousin Kimmy's recent wedding to Eric and plan to spend as much time in that state as possible. Wish me luck; I wish you luck. And I wish Kimmy and Eric luck. Good luck!


  1. For me the real challenge is compassion towards people who cause me pain.

  2. That is certainly another challenging compassion to cultivate. How about combining them by having mudita for people who cause us pain? Just a playful idea to toss out there.