How to Be Happier by Experiencing Other People's Joy
by Brian Vaszily, Founder of IntenseExperiences.com
How to be happy … or how to be happier ... when you think about it, this is really the basis for virtually every piece of advice ever given by one person to another.
What follows is a simple intense experience called “mudita” in Buddhism, and proven by recent scientific studies, that will help you be happier.
But first a very brief story:
Recently while watching the Academy Awards I found myself wondering why I was watching the Academy Awards.
“After all,” I thought to myself, “times are hard, and these actors, producers, directors and all the rest are way overpaid and over-celebrated for what they do. The overblown display of wealth and self-importance is rather revolting. I work at least just as hard as they do, as do most people, and have gifts and talents too, as do all people, but don’t receive anywhere near the money nor the accolades that they do. Plus I’d look much better in a tuxedo than those guys do, except for Brad Pitt. I shouldn’t be supporting this.”
Then I caught myself.
I realized that was a dangerous little demon called Envy poking its ugly head into my heart.
Yes, many grown-ups very un-grown-up habit of worshipping celebrities poses serious risks to individual and collective sensibilities – who cares what car Tiger Woods drives, and how is William Shatner qualified to hawk insurance in TV commercials? To paraphrase one of my father’s favorite sayings, their crap stinks too.
But that is no excuse to allow myself to pass judgment on people I don’t even know. It is no excuse to enable envy. And it is no excuse to shield myself from enjoying the output of the celebrities’ work, no matter how overpaid and over-celebrated they are, and no matter how ostentatious and ugly their Academy Award gowns are.
And that led me to a wonderful little revelation.
They ARE only people after all, same as you and I, and the reason I was watching the Academy Awards was because – when I wasn’t letting self-sabotaging negative emotions like envy creep in – I was enjoying experiencing their joy ... experiencing them being happy.
Kate Winslet’s happiness as she accepted the Best Actress award for The Reader. The cast of Slumdog Millionaire’s joy onstage upon winning Best Picture of the Year. Kunio Kato’s being happy ... so happy! ... as he accepted the award for Best Short Film (the winners in these obscure categories often seem to express the most joy of all. He also had the night’s best line when, after thanking the usual suspects in his acceptance speech in his strong Japanese accent, he added, “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.” Long live Styx!)
This enjoyment of someone else being happy is known as “mudita” in Buddhism.
And interestingly, a recent study I learned about in the groundbreaking new book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection demonstrated that enjoying other people’s happiness is not just a fleeting experience.
Instead, watching other people being happy triggers the same parts of your brain, and releases the same chemicals in your body that improve your overall emotions, as if you were experiencing the joy yourself.
That is a key point worth reiterating: if you want to be happier, one surefire way to help your cause is to experience other people’s happiness.
So How Much are YOU Consuming?
On the flipside, this same study found that experiencing other people’s pain of loss and sadness prompts your body to experience it as if it were your own.
Think about that for a moment.
When you watch the evening news, it is pain and sadness galore. Especially in this bad economy. Many of the most popular primetime TV shows are centered on pain, sadness, tension, disgust and (think certain “reality” shows here) backstabbing.
Experiencing artistic tragedies like Romeo and Juliet or perhaps an episode of 24 does have its benefit, as there are both inherent lessons and closure in these tragedies; Aristotle called the experience “catharsis,” which in short means a release of emotional tension by bringing repressed fears and anxieties to the surface.
But there are rarely any lessons and closure, and therefore rarely any catharsis, in the fear and angst stirred up by the evening news (which really should be called the “bad evening news.”) There’s not much in most of today’s media at all.
And so a very important question to ask yourself is: how much pure negativity are you exposing yourself to on a routine basis?
Because you are experiencing it as if it were your own. An impact on your mind and body – including your moods, including your immune system – is inevitable.
You Have the Prettiest Earlobes
Meanwhile, here is a simple, positive and transformative experience – an intense experience – that I urge you to have routinely if you want to be happier (and healthier):
Experience other people’s joy as often as you can.
Place yourself amidst other people’s laughter.
Get down on the floor and play with children.
Ask people about the happiest moments of their life so far, and instead of asking your loved ones “How was your day?” ask them “What was the best thing that happened to you today?”
Watch people – whether they’re overpaid and ridiculously dressed actresses, or Girl Scouts, or Employees of the Month, they’re all just people after all – experience the joy of accepting awards and compliments for their accomplishments.
And while you're at it, give people more compliments -- there is ALWAYS something worth complimenting -- and experience the joy of their happiness.
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