Monday, February 19, 2007

reflections on love, part III

"The third element of true love is mudita, joy. True love always brings joy to ourselves and to the one we love. If our love does not bring joy to both of us, it is not true love."

"Some commentators have said that mudita means 'sympathetic joy' or 'altruistic joy,' the happiness we feel when others are happy. But that is too limited. It discriminates between self and others. A deeper definition of mudita is joy that is filled with peace and contentment. We rejoice when we see others happy, but we rejoice in our own well-being as well. How can we feel joy for another person when we do not feel joy for ourselves? Joy is for everyone."

Thich Nhat Hanh, "Teachings On Love"

Sometimes I think that out of a desire to condemn excessive materialism or selfishness, the Christian tradition has unintentionally neglected (or even scorned) the value of personal happiness. One of the reasons I like this teaching is that it does the opposite -- it recognizes that our capacity to feel joy for others depends on having at least some measure of joy within ourselves. Put another way, our personal and spiritual growth cannot be thought of in purely selfless terms. We have to love and nurture ourselves, for it is in doing so that we also achieve the capacity for loving others.

Which is not to say, of course, that we should succumb to materialism or selfishness. These do not produce lasting joy or happiness, in any case. But in rejecting the allure of such things, we mustn't make the mistake of assuming that the only proper spiritual concern is with others, that a consideration of one's own happiness is a kind of spiritual poison. Indeed, I think this teaching tells us that nurturing happiness, joy, and peace within ourselves is a necessity.


more cows than people said...

Do you think there's a difference between joy and happiness? For some reason, I feel like there is. For some reason, I also feel like Christianity leaves great room for joy, calls for joy "Rejoice in the Lord, always!" And yet... you're right, happiness seems like a low priority. But, of course, if we are not happy, how do we access genuine joy? Hmm... Just musing.

Lori said...

I cannot agree more--you can't exactly spread joy and happiness if you are miserable yourself. I've seen it work the other way around far too often--people who are miserable making others miserable.

steve said...

more cows,

Yep. I think happiness gets a bad rap in some lines of Christian thought. Maybe because "happiness" is equated with selfish motives, a neglect for the welfare of others. But personally, I think happiness actually opens us up to more loving. Truly happy people don't act selfishly. Selfishness is almost always an effort to cover some emotional pain.


Good to hear from you again! I agree. We see miserable people make others miserable far too often.

Alex said...

The happiness we feel when others are happy. That is fantastic. Thank you.