As a teenager in the Bronx I won the NYC dance championship. I had come third in my borough before winning the City. I also won my College dance championship and won a competition on a TV dance show. Winning got in my blood; I loved the feeling of being a winner. Coming from New York there is a natural tendency to have this me-first attitude. I was born into a lower middle class background, my father worked for the post office. I never felt I had enough so winning gave me a huge boost.
Things began to shift when I met teachers, such as the Yoga Master Swami Satchidananda and the Dalai Lama. They taught me that there is no real payoff being selfish, that selflessness brings you more happiness and is far more fulfilling than selfishness. That taking joy in other people's happiness is really where it's at. It's amazing how it truly makes you happier.
In Buddhism this is called mudita, also known as sympathetic joy or deep gladness. This is a special form of joy as it responds to all things good, as seen in your enjoyment of someone else's good fortune, or when another's happiness makes you happy.
Now, in essence, feeling joyful for another's joy sounds very easy. But someone else's good fortune may be at the expense of yours--they got the job and you didn't. Can you still be happy for them then? Or it may make you feel less than, unworthy, unattractive. Can we actually feel joy for another person's good fortune when we are jealous of them?
Mudita makes us look at those places that are wrapped up in ego, such as jealousy, envy, judgment and comparison. It is fairly easy to see how jealousy isn't going to get us anywhere other than into further pain and suffering; it takes us out of the present and we get lost in the future, in the 'what if'. Feeling envious of another's success or beauty is based on the superficial conditions of life, not the deeper reality of unconditional happiness.
Yet how often do we wish someone does not succeed, as their success simply highlights our own sense of failure? Mudita shows us how we project onto others that they have that special something that we think we are missing.
Judgment serves the ego, making someone else appear wrong, lucky or unlucky. Notice how you tend to do this, to judge people who think differently from you or look different; notice when you compare yourself to those who have more or less than you, how this either makes you think you are better or just feeds your unworthiness.
Mudita asks that we let go of jealousy and judgment by seeing the other as ourself, seeing the inter-connectedness between all beings, and seeing the bigger picture. It means letting go of fixed patterns of thinking so that you can genuinely wish happiness and joy for others.
You actually want them to be happy! You want them to be free from suffering. Your happiness and their happiness are no different. You experience a deep gladness that they are happy.
A daily practice I use is a visualization where I focus on a person I may be having difficulty with, or someone I may be in competition with or jealous of. I picture them in my heart and I say: "May they be well! May they be happy! May all things go well for them!" This has changed my life.