Mudita: a Buddhist term for finding joy in the happiness and success of others.
Every morning after V gets off to school I spend some time at my computer writing. My desk is upstairs facing the street with a view directly onto my across the street neighbors, who have been renting an apartment for over a year while their house is undergoing a major renovation. There was a very long delay in getting started due to getting all the work up to code and I felt bad for the family of five having to remain in a relatively small apartment for so long. Now the construction is underway and everyday I witness the trucks parked outside and the workers going in to work on the renovation.
I text my neighbor, with whom I’m friends, to let her know how happy I am that they are finally undergoing the work on her house and she responds in kind. They’re so excited.
When I was in a book group reading a Russian novel I remember someone asking for an example of a family that was happy and there was silence from the members. I named my neighbors. Certainly with three kids – two now teens – and parents there was bound to be some tension or disagreements yet all in all I would describe them as a happy family, with bright beautiful, kind and talented children and loving and involved parents. The kids are thriving in school and the parents are satisfied with their jobs and when last I saw them on Chanukah – I invited them over for latkes – I couldn’t get over how harmonious a household they were.
The youngest is about ten now, old enough that they can undergo a major renovation and not worry about little children making big messes. I am able to be glad for them even though I wish we could do the same, that we didn’t still have all sorts of locks and gates and daily clean ups that are common with much younger kids than V.
In a few months the project will be completed and they will move back into their beautifully renovated home. I will be happy to see them, happy for them and all their good fortune. Yet I admit that it takes effort on my part not to feel envy along with the joy, to simply observe all the activity across the street without thinking that it isn’t fair that we don’t have the same. We will eventually leave this house and someone else will buy it and make all the improvements that we haven’t been able to undergo because V is still like a mischievous child in many ways.
So many things haven’t worked out as planned. The re-assessment for V delineated in answer after answer all the challenges we face. It’s hard to feel happy with our circumstances yet I try to feel content, a sense of satisfaction with life as it is. Envy is defined as a painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage. And I try to avoid pain and resentment, to let go of desires related to what others have that I so eagerly want. In Buddhism, craving is the root of all suffering. Mudita is so much healthier and more skillful; it comes naturally to feel happy for others I care about and still it is a struggle to leave it at that, not to crave and resent and feel left out.
And yet I don’t begrudge my neighbors or anyone else that has the house of their dreams. I like to think that some day V will live in a wonderful group home where he can thrive and we will be in another place where we can put up all our photos and paintings and have nicely finished floors and an open kitchen or at least one without locks. For now I look out the window with curiosity and delight, knowing a happy family will soon return home.